So I’ve never flown before in a big group. It's great fun, especially since this group of ten friends gets progressively louder the more we get to know each other (and maybe the more tired we get. Yesterday it was an early morning minibus from Great Wall to Beijing, air flight to Chengdu, taxi to hotel, walk to teahouse and then hotpot (extremely spicy hotpot in a really noisy restaurant, which is kind of a thing around here, apparently). The Sichuan spice is not just hot chilly peppers but this additional spice that gives your lips and tongue a sort of vibrating, numbing (novocaine?) sensation. I like to think I’m pretty good with hot & spicy, but these Sichuan Province peppers were getting the better of me: I was sweating and wiping my nose.
After dinner we walked down streets alive with people and shops, bought some icecream, and walked along the river where groups of people were dancing and a classical Chinese concert was in full swing. My favourite performer was this bass singer with a splendid voice (I could hear him across the river as we stepped out of the hotel lobby).
Before the hotpot dinner we spent a couple of hours in a teahouse sharing the highs and lows of our immersion experiences in our churches this past week. Each of our experiences were all so vastly different, and I think it might have been a bit easy for some of us to envy the really amazing experiences of others, except that this opportunity to hear and engage everyone’s story was a lovely way to have many of the "gaps" filled. And because we’ve all become friends it's good fun to sort of vicariously experience what others have experienced.
This morning Jeanette came over to our hotel with baked oatmeal, yoghurt and cantaloupe for breakfast, and it was so good. Cereal is one of my favourite things, and this morning realized how much I’ve missed it. We then jumped on a bus which took us to a subway station which took us to the train station for the semi-fast train (200 km/h) from Chengdu to Nanchong. Again we were a rather noisy bunch of travellers this morning, garnering us lots of looks. Such obnoxious Canadians.
In Nanchong we met for lunch with a group of Chinese scholars who've been on exchange to Eastern Mennonite University with Mennonite Partners in China (MPC). We also met with Merle (director of MPC) and Ruthie Byler. I discovered, to my delight, that the Bylers know so many people I knew since Ruthie had grown up in Hartville Conservative Mennonite Church and Merle grew up in a Beachy Amish church in Holmes County. So Merle knows my brother-in-law Ronnie and his whole family really well (I think they were neighbours once), and Ruthie’s brother is John Coblentz. And Merle’s sister is a member of Antrim Church where my sister Anne and Ronnie have been members for many years... and the connections just went on and on and on.
After lunch we visited the farm of an MCC worker, Duan. Actually this farm near Nanchong belongs to his father who gave us a wonderful tour of this traditional farm. We learned so much about farming practices in China. A number of us grew up on farms, so we were in our element. My own family's mixed farm in Ontario didn’t grow even close to as many crops as this little farm is growing. These are the crops we saw: sweet potatoes, corn, rice, peanuts, walnuts, pomelo, taro, red hot peppers, beans, loofah, sunflowers, winter melon, pumpkins, tomatoes, wheat, plums, grapes, Chinese medicine tree bark, loquats, mulberry trees and canola. Plus ducks, geese and chickens. What did I miss?
Then for dinner we met with Wang, wife of Duan, a passionate and visionary peacebuilder who works together with both MCC and MPC. Together with MCC she organizes yearly peace camps in which she brings together teenagers from Japan, Korea and China. Why bring kids from these three countries together? Well, China and Korea were both brutalized by Japan during World War II, so the Chinese and Koreans tend to have a very dim view of the Japanese. The Koreans also remember the many times in history that they've been invaded by China. So this is an opportunity for these young people to learn about peacebuilding principles, to play games and peacebuilding exercises together and to become friends. Mrs Wang also runs an English school for kids where MPC workers have often been employed.
Well, it’s after 10pm Saturday evening (7:10 am Saturday morning in Vancouver), and we’re hurtling back to Chengdu on the high speed train. I think I already knew this before coming to China, but it's been reinforced for me throughout this trip: Jeanette has boundless energy; she makes sure our days are packed. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to see what God is doing all over China through the churches, but I'm also really glad to get this glimpse of what God is doing here through the Hanson family. It is truly amazing.