So today, two major activities: visiting Tea City, the largest of its kind in the world, though there are tea cities throughout China; and also touring Chongweimen Church, the most famous church in all of China.
So we had to travel into downtown Beijing today. The streets are an eternal logjam. In China it is perfectly fine to cut people off with your car. Everyone just drives to the open spots, and the rule seems to be that if your nose is out front you get to go first. The rules are simple — sort of like downhill skiing: don’t hit the guy in front of you. What is amazing to me is how very few accidents there are. I would think there would be so many fender benders, but I don’t think that I have yet seen one side-swiped car. Even honking your horn here is different. It happens all the time — horns going off constantly. But here a horn honked is not a four-letter word. Rather it’s mostly a rather pleasant, “I’m here, right behind you. Please don’t cut me off!” One picture I’m really sorry I missed this morning… I just couldn’t whip out my phone in time: a grandma pedalling down the street one of those ubiquitous adult-sized tricycles with the big wire basket trunk, and slouched inside that wire basket trunk was the prone body of grandpa, a big hat pulled down over his head. Was he actually trying to catch a nap as his wife trucked him around those crazy-making streets?
There’s an entire city within Beijing that sells tea and all the accessories that go along with the grand and ancient tea culture of China. Pastor Lu took us to the shop with the expert in tea culture — the person, I was told, who knows more about tea than basically anyone else in China. In fact, Pastor Lu once invited this man, Mr Su, to come to his church to teach his people about the art of the tea culture.
So we spent about 2-3 hours seated around the tea table with our tiny tea cups, enjoying a whole variety of famous teas, some strong and aromatic, some gentle and bright. Who could have known there’s so much to learn about tea? Tea is Pastor Lu’s hobby and passion. He told me a story during this tea time about a certain man in his community who was very angry and would not be calmed down. Finally Pastor Lu convinced him to join him for some tea, and by the end of their tea time the man had become mild and peaceable, and they were able to work out a solution to the conflict.
After our lengthy and very pleasant session of tea sipping Pastor Lu entertained us with another feast of a lunch, this time at a special restaurant in which all who worked there came from a minority tribe from the west near Tibet. The waitresses were very different in their appearance from the majority Han people of China. And they wore their colourful traditional dress, which I unfortunately forgot to photograph. We had a cup of yoghurt first, and then lamb on skewers plus a whole array of other dishes which again we had not a hope of finishing. This time I was happy to see our driver have them boxed up to take home. The hospitality here simply exceeds what we North Americans consider reasonable.
The afternoon we spent at the church where Billy Graham preached, where George (Sr) and Barbara Bush attended while they lived here and worked at the American embassy, and where their daughter was baptized, and also where Bill and Hillary Clinton attended. Chongweimen Church is only a few blocks away from Tiananmen Square. Pastor Lu’s wife is the senior pastor there, but we did not visit with her this afternoon since she was away. Instead, we were given the tour by a young pastor, Han Yufang just recently ordained, whose English is outstanding.
My conversation with Pastor Han has to be one of the highlights so far. Her story of hearing God’s call to ministry, of doubting the call and spending years in prayer until finally confirmation came to her, was emotionally powerful. Sometimes it’s hard to really sense the heart of someone who is not of one’s own culture, but it was so obvious to me that this young woman loves the Lord deeply.
This church has a rich and deep history, having been built in 1870. Currently there are about 6000 worshippers who attend the five services each Sunday, but like so many churches in Beijing, this church extends to many other centres and satellite meeting places. It is no longer the biggest church in the city. Several others have Sunday morning attendance of well over 10,000, but its history and location grant it an enormous influence on Christianity in China.
Christian worship in China seems to be pretty traditional. Though I noticed this venerable old church does have a drum kit up front. It looked a bit out of place. After all, Chongweimen Church also has five different choirs.
This evening I’m enjoying dinner at my host’s daughter’s home. Together we made jiaodza (Chinese dumplings). I’m quite proud of my ability to shape and press a Chinese dumpling. I had great teachers. Their three-year-old son is a darling, and precocious. The son-in-law works in stocks, both investing and as a broker, I believe. They live in a beautiful apartment building on the thirteenth floor. The entire complex must have about 30 very massive brand new apartment buildings. When it comes to construction in China, everything is super-sized.
The rest of my day I’ll leave for the pictures to tell.