Friday, February 19, 2010

the deep south part 1

"Don't spit," Robert told me as we walked down a clean, tree-sheltered street in Shenzhen, "people will think you're from the North."

"I'm a foreigner," I responded, "it doesn't matter," and spit anyway.

Robert is a close friend who grew up in Shenzhen, a city which borders Hong Kong on the southern coast of Guangdong, and moving to Baoding was as close to culture shock as one could get moving from one Chinese city to another. Shenzhen is known across China for its wealth. Walking down its streets, I couldn't help but feel like I was in some American city. The streets were clean and there was a Starbucks and 7-Eleven nearby. I even bought a hoodie in H&M there. That was a year ago. Last month the entire IECS team returned to Shenzhen for another Conference, which kicked off the Baoding team's 3 week trip across southern China. Before we traveled to the South the team met in Beijing for two nights, one of which was spent at a restaurant listening to Tim's engagement tale, which, like a fine wine, gets taller with age. His story inspired all the other couples to tell their stories and by the end of the night everyone was swooning (So tie down the sails! We're going downtown!).

While we stayed in an ocean front hotel in Shenzhen, most of our time was spent in meetings. While I wasn't too excited about that with the sound of the ocean crashing a mere football field away, we had the opportunity to listen to some incredible teaching from wise (ie, old) men and women. Our main teacher happened to have been a Chaplain of the Washington Redskins; so, needless to say, I was spellbound at his every word, hoping the next one would be "Joe Gibbs" or "Art Monk." (why OH WHY did my iphone have to run out of memory just as he was telling a great Joe Gibbs story so I couldn't record it?!)

It was a time of challenging spiritual thoughts and ideas, and meaningful conversations. One of them occurred over a game of Majong in a private room in a neighboring hotel. It was one of those incredible electronic Majong tables that shuffled the tiles for you. All you have to do is push a button on the table and the center piece raises up, waiting for you to push the tiles into the center of the table. After you do that the center piece slowly descends back down and your newly shuffled tiles rise up in front of you, perfectly stacked into four walls. The waitress served us each free piping-hot tea and Tony (pictured right), our Chinese co-worker, promptly won three games in a row. Ryan started talking about the prospect of going to Graduate school to study the Scripture full time.

"I don't want to be an intellectual yuppy," Ryan said," just studying for knowledge's sake."

"I think studying is important," Tony said, feeling a tile with his forefinger and discarding it, knowing what it was without even looking at it, "but I want a simple faith."

At this point I couldn't concentrate on the game and I interjected.

"So, there's a balance to being a believer then," I said, always feeling the need to draw a conclusion for the sake of argument, "the renewing of your mind is important, but it's also critical to merely trust Him."

"I don't think there's a balance," Tony responded, "just the Holy Spirit."

I remained silent and drew and discarded tiles robotically for a while. Tony won again.

The rest of the week in Shenzhen was a blast, but I hard time resting at night because everyone was talking about next year. Many are not returning to China. What to do? I kept thinking. I'm still not sure, but I think ideas and dreams in my mind about it are becoming ever more coherent. One of the final nights was spent on the roof of our hotel with Tim and Stephen, a teammate in Tianjin. We smoked cigars from Emerson's in Norfolk I had brought all the way from the States and we called the gathering "Entmoot." The conversation ran deep as it always does when Stephen is around. He is a catalyst for all sorts of Joy and I'm so glad he and his wife, Beth, stuck with us for the next leg of our trip to Guangxi. But first the group split up for a couple days due to divided interests.

After the Conference, a small group traveled to Hong Kong for a couple days while the Baoding team went to Macau, a city very near Shenzhen and Hong Kong which was returned to China about the same time Hong Kong was. Like, Hong Kong, Macau was owned by a European country for over a century, but Portugal had had a hand in Macau a lot longer than Britain had been a part Hong Kong. Despite now being a part of China, Macau remains an expensive city and is known for being the eastern version of Las Vegas, actually generating more revenue in its casinos than its western counterpart. We stayed in a hostel in a border city called Zhuhai, a typical southern coastal city; though, not nearly as nice as Shenzhen. For two days we stayed in individual bedrooms that were so small it felt like sleeping in lockers, but they were clean and the room felt cozy rather than cramped. The border between Zhuhai and Macau is the most-crossed border in the world and we added to the statistic for those two days. We ate massive burgers the first night and explored the Venetian casino, never sitting down at any tables because we couldn't find the right minimum bid. Our goal was Blackjack, which remains my only real experience with gambling, but the Venetian was too affluent for our wallets; so we decided to wait until the next day and try another casino. The next day we visited St. Paul's Cathedral and saw disturbing paintings of St. Augustine and Japanese martyrs. Later we almost bought "ObaMao" t-shirts. We ate Portuguese food for dinner and afterward Ryan almost got in a yelling match with a passing driver who nearly ran over Kerry in a cobblestone alleyway. We then returned to our goal: an affordable Blackjack table. It took a few casinos before we found our table and it was worth it... well, it was for me. Tim wasn't so lucky. The dealer got 4 blackjack hands in the first seven or eight hands. I'm not sure how I survived the onslaught, but I was about even after them; Tim wasn't. Eventually the crowded table emptied and it was only Tim, Ryan, and me. We gave Kerry and Amelia a few chips to play with and we were promptly joined by a bald elderly Chinese man who spoke fluent English. He rarely bet on his own hands, but would toss chips onto ours and we eventually called him "Master" because of his unsurpassed knowledge of the game. With his astute advice and a few strokes of luck, I doubled my money. I actually had to get Bethany to take my chips away from me after I doubled up so that I could get up from the table, which is always the hardest part. It was worth the trip; even Tim would tell you.

Next we rejoined the Hong Kong group for our trip to Yangshuo, Guangxi, famous for its unnaturally shaped and beautiful mountains. If you google "China" you'll find pictures of the Great Wall and these mountains pretty quickly. It was a return trip for me, as my first two short trips to China were to the same area. I'll write about that later and I guarantee it will be one of the few instances when a sequel is even better than the original!


Janet Phillips said...

These are the first pictures I've seen from the three week trip and I'm so glad you posted them - they are amazing and beautiful. I loved reading about Greg's visit too! I know there are great things for you in store next year Jon - will be "thinking" about that!

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