FULL CIRCLE MOMENTS
Three years isn't an especially long time to live somewhere, but it was definitely long enough to provide a few noteworthy "full circle moments" in Shiyan and my connected histories.
1) China blocks blogspot. If any of you are wondering why my last blog was in May, it's because China blocked blogspot...again. When I first moved to China, my blog site was blocked making it impossible to view in China, but I was still able to access my account and make entries. Then in the Great Opening Up of '08 when China was preparing for the Summer Olympics and sites such as Wikipedia were finally accessible, my blog also became open for viewing in China - which I've no doubt had a huge impact on all zero of the Chinese people actually reading my blog. Within the last few months, however, China again blocked my blog - both my website and my account so I haven't been able to write anything. In addition, YouTube and other essentials have become inaccessible recently, thus limiting the joie de vivre for all YouTube junkies in China.
2) BLK opens and closes. I imagine there are an untold number of restaurants and other businesses that have opened and closed in Shiyan since I arrived three years ago, but few have become noticeable to me. BLK, however, was beloved by most foreigners. It opened my first year and closed just a few months ago. It was a fast food chicken restaurant - similar to KFC but exponentially better. I seldom ate there, but when I did their chicken wrap pleased me immensely.
3) Direct train to Xi'an begins and ends. This is, perhaps, the most lamentable of all! My first trip to Xi'an in the winter of 2007 was wonderful in many ways - but traveling there and back was not one of them. At that time, there was no direct train between my city and Xi'an, which necessitated a stopover in An Kang to switch trains. Since it was impossible to buy train tickets departing a city from any other city than the city to be departed, An Kang became sort of a black hole, causing innocent foreigners to be 1) stuck in that wretched city for hours on end awaiting the first free train to Xi'an or Shiyan (depending on the direction you were headed) and 2) to only be able to purchase standing tickets - a nightmare during peak travel times. As it turned out, January was a peak travel time, and my memory of traveling to Xi'an from An Kang is precisely this - standing between cars with three Chinese people leaning against my legs and shoulders, sleeping rather comfortably while I straddled my luggage (that was back during my "pack for any occasion" days) in a contorted fashion. I don't remember much about the ride back from An Kang, but I do remember waiting six hours in the freezer that was the An Kang train station, wondering if visiting the terra-cotta warriors in Xi'an was really worth losing my extremities to frostbite over. Needless to say, I didn't feel the need to visit Xi'an again my first year. By my second year, a direct train from Shiyan to Xi'an began, and over the course of the next two years, I would visit Xi'an painlessly five more times. An Kang simply became a distant anecdotal memory...until this June when China decided to discontinue the direct train. Having already promised Jessica and Barry I would visit Xi'an with them one last time, I warily boarded the train to An Kang, hurt by China's apparent personal attack on me. I won't dwell much on the evils of An Kang, but I will say that it certainly didn't fail to disappoint, discourage and suck all the joy out of train travel.
4) The Making of Communion Bread. When I moved to China, I learned to make the bread for communion, which I did every Sunday for a good year and a half. The last Sunday I spent with the Chinese, I taught them how to make communion bread, since the Chinese will be meeting without the foreigners from now on. This is by far the weightiest and most beautiful full circle moment for me.
5) Facebook. The summer before I moved to China, my best friend talked me into getting a Facebook account to keep in touch with everyone. I had been hesitant to get one since EVERYONE was doing it, and I tend to balk at massively popular endeavors. However, I eventually set up an account, and it turned out to be quite a handy communication tool allowing my family and friends to keep up with photos and my blog and me in general. Now that I'm back in the States, however, I've decided to give up Facebook in an effort to simplify my life. So, from now on, if anyone wants to get ahold of me, my e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
LAST DAYS IN CHINA
I finished classes the first week of June - a bittersweet accomplishment (more sweet than bitter). On top of my game for the first semester in three years, I completed all grades and finalized my teaching plans the same week I finished classes. It was beautiful. Having nothing else pressing, I traveled with Jessica to Beijing to meet her younger brother Matthew who would spend the next couple weeks traveling with us. In Beijing Jessica, Trent and I overcame all odds (no identification - me, inappropriate showing of the ankles - Jess, and possession of a cell phone - Trent) to walk through the room housing Chairmen Mao's brilliantly neon-orange-colored body. It was quite a feat, we felt. On that Beijing visit, we also toured the Forbidden City, which was nice but not necessarily a "must-see." We were only in Beijing a few days before going to Qingdao, one of our favorite China cities. There we simply relaxed - meandered around the old town, ate fried squid, toured the Tsingtao beer factory, which was surprisingly fascinating, laid out on the beach and hit unsuspecting Chinese people in the face for merely waiting at the same bus stop as us (Jessica). After Qingdao we were home for a few days before going to Xi'an, where I was nearly pick-pocketed (Matthew swooped in in a moment of valor and confronted my perpetrator before he did any damage. My hero!). Having been to Xi'an a million times already, Jess and I did almost nothing while there besides drink Starbucks, read, and hide in our hostel from crabby Xi'an vendors. Barry and I did venture out for a walk around the old city wall - an endeavor which turned out to be about 8 miles of walking. It was good, but we were more than ready to get back to Shiyan.
My last few days were filled with visits from students and Family. I was reminded daily about the abundant blessings of life in China. There's an old adage that China's most valuable resource is its people. I agree wholeheartedly!
There's really no way to close out this blog the way my heart wishes to. So many thoughts, emotions, lessons learned, etc. float around me as I think about my time in China. But it never really was about me. Too many restrictions (the least of which were the seemingly menacing ones of the particular country I was working in) prevented me from expressing, most of the time, the deeper, more beautiful experiences had and truths learned while serving in China. It was an honor for me to be a part of the work of God in Shiyan. I'm excited now about being a part of the same work back home.
Grace and Peace.