Part IV: Tientsin [Tianjin]
The trip to Tientsin, via van, was routine and afforded a view of the countryside, similar to that of the train. Flat, fertile land interspersed with small villages. We arrived shortly before noon and checked into the Holiday Inn which is on the north side fairly close to the railroad station. We had been scheduled for the Astor but, for some unknown reason, were switched to the Holiday which meant we were not within walking distance of our home area.
The McDonald's where we ate in Tianjin
After lunch at a nearby McDonalds, Louise, Marj, Pete and I walked down from the hotel to explore the neighborhood. We stopped at a photo shop and, with some struggling with my Chinese, we got Pete some print film as they repeatedly assumed we wanted slide film. On the side street was a typical Chinese open market lined with open booths of all kinds of foodstuffs, meats, chickens, vegetables, breads. It was several blocks long with literally hundreds of stalls. We walked on around the block and down the street past old men playing checkers on the sidewalk, around literally hundreds of parked bicycles, and past a business school. We found this out only after engaging several students in attempted conversations.
On the return we noticed another large building which appeared to be a school about a block behind the hotel, so walked over. It was a Fine Arts academy, with a statue of the wife of Chou En Lai, a famous Communist leader, in front as she had attended the school. We crossed over to the large courtyard, stopped at the gate house and asked the gatekeeper if he spoke "American" which he didn't. I then asked a passing student who also didn't, but he stopped several other students as they went by, to see if they could talk with us. The fourth or fifth student said something and ran into the main building. A few minutes later he came back to tell us that someone was coming. It turned out to be the director of international relations for the school, a gentleman who spoke excellent English and offered to take us through the academy.
He gave us an extensive guided tour of the school, going into several labs where students were working. In one, a student gave us a picture of some of his art work and another was copying paintings onto fans. In the next classroom a student wrote out, in calligraphy, an old Chinese fable which he presented quite humbly, but obviously with pleasure, to Louise.
A young Chinese student writing a poem in calligraphy
The next building was an exhibit area which contained paintings completed by graduates and other artists. The director informed us that the fine arts academy is a post secondary technical school or specialized school emphasizing graphic arts, art, and probably commercial art. We must have been there an hour or more. After taking us through he offered us refreshments and tea but we realized we had taken enough of his time so traded business cards and bid each other good by.
We returned to the hotel and had dinner in the restaurant buffet which was only about $6 USD. When we returned to our room the Mariner game was on so you can imagine what we did that evening! The Mariners won 10-5.
The next day we began our tour of old landmarks beginning with the Astor hotel. The front entrance has been reversed and now faces the Hi Ho river. For old times sake we went through the lobby and exited through the old revolving door onto what used to be Victoria Road. The old Victoria park was across the street. We then walked down old Victoria Road on to Woodrow Wilson street and came to the seminary building (right). The building was built in 1937 by the National Holiness Association, under my father's supervision. It was unchanged from our last visit three years ago, in fact practically the same as it was back in the 30s and 40s.
The wife of Chou En Lai
However, this time the Communist training school director and her associate were there. The school has communist training sessions which last three months or so but the school was between groups so there were no students around. After explaining our reason for coming, the director welcomed us and invited us to go through the building. When we came to Dad's old office I remarked that this was his office and she unlocked the door so we could enter. It was being used as a storage facility with several boxes and folding chairs scattered around. I pulled up a folding chair, set it where I remembered Dad had his office chair, and sat down and made some comment about how I was now sitting where Dad had sat so often.
From there we walked on down old Kirin road and looked for the former Bible School building but were unable to locate it. Later, I learned from one of the church officers I met on Sunday that it was still there, so either we didn't go to the right streets or the officers could have been thinking of the seminary building.
We again found our old mission home site. The gate post has been changed so now all that was left of the original was a little of the south wall. However, one of the people in the compound remembered the building and had worked in it when it was a grocery distributing place of some sort before being torn down.
Betty, our local guide, had been notified of our historical interest and she had a list of street names from the 30's and their names currently so this time we were able to accurately locate Race Course Road and also Wellington Street. On the corner of the two streets was a building which looked much like my faint remembrance of the old Wellington nursing home and was more likely the building in which Robert and the twins were born. We also found what was probably the site of the old American Legion cemetery where our mother and Ray's mother were buried. It is now a paved parking area next to a large office building. It gave me a new understanding of the attitude of Native Americans toward the desecration of their burial grounds.
Tientsin Bible Seminary building where Ed's Dad was principal. The blue facing has been added.
Our walk also took us past the old army barracks and to the site of the American elementary school we visited last time. Unfortunately, it had moved to another location. The people in the area didn't know where the new site was and we didn't have time to track it down. By now it was well past lunch so we stopped at Kessling's new store in that section of the city. Nearby was a large department store which several also visited. Kessling's had pictures of the old store in the entry area but it has changed to a buffet type restaurant. Several of us went on in and, after some struggle with the language and inept clerks, were able to settle on ice cream dishes. The ice cream, however, didn't have the quality of 60 years ago!! Maybe time and memory made the difference, maybe not.
Saturday morning, as we were coming down for breakfast, we got on the elevator on the 25th floor and met a man who indicated he'd also grown up in Tientsin although he was now doing business in Hong Kong. I asked him if he knew of a Christian church in Tientsin. Just as I asked that, another man entered-it was now about the 23rd floor-and overheard my question. Both responded immediately that there was and that it was only about a ten minute taxi ride from the Holiday Inn. They also assured us they would get the address from someone at the desk. I said we'd be in the restaurant and would appreciate their doing that. A few minutes later the Hong Kong businessman came in with the address.
As we prepared to start our day's tour I told Betty we wanted to go by the church to find out when services would be the next day, Sunday. Later we did that and determined that the main service would be at 9:30-11 a.m. Sunday.
The army barracks where the missionaries held weekly Bible Study groups
We started the morning with the carpet factory which again was interesting even though only a couple of workers were there since it was Saturday. They showed us how carpet is woven and patterns clipped out then, of course, took us into the store to buy. Ray was the winner of that contest, buying so much that he needed to purchase another large suitcase and was given a free silk tie. Since he never wears ties, he gave this to the van driver who seemed very appreciative. Del and Marj bought a couple of small carpets as did Pete. I tried to bargain for Del and Marj but they had so obviously set their hearts on what they wanted that the salesman knew he had them hooked so wouldn't relent much. They still got a much better price than they'd have gotten in the United States, anyway. However, Del was a quick learner and within a day or two could haggle with the best of them!!
From there we went to the cultural street and to the large food mall we'd visited last time. We had lunch at a little restaurant in the mall. Betty was quite concerned about the quality but we were pretty unanimous in considering it one of our better meals. The cultural street, which is really a bazaar or open market, took a good share of the afternoon with most of the group buying souvenirs at pretty good negotiated prices.
After walking the river walk across from the Astor on the old Hi Ho, we ended the day back at the Holiday.
Sunday morning, after breakfast, we went in the van to the 'Christian' church which we had located the previous day. Denominational affiliation is forbidden in China. In fact, we were told that the Catholic church is not permitted to declare the Pope as their head but must have a Chinese bishop or religious leader as their chief officer.
The Christian Church in Tianjin. We sat the in the second balcony
The church was a large stone structure, built six or seven years ago. We entered and noted a full auditorium on the first floor, maybe 600 or so people, which we later discovered was a Korean congregation. Our guide talked with the usher who told us we wanted to go on up to the next level. There we came to an auditorium of well over 2500 seats. Every seat was taken and people were standing in the doorway and around the wall. Because Michelle couldn't climb stairs, John took her and David into the auditorium to see if someone would give them seats.
The rest of us went on up to a balcony level with about 1500 seats, but it, too, was packed with people standing in the entry areas. So we moved up to a second balcony with at least 1200 seats and, while well filled, there were still a few scattered seats. Some people moved so we could sit together about half way up. It was now about 9:20 The regular service began at 9:30 but there was a pre service of singing which is what we were listening to. The rest of the group went on to the seats but I grabbed an usher and asked if she could speak English. She couldn't but took me to another usher. At the same time, John showed up, having arranged seating for David and Michelle, so I requisitioned him and asked him to let the usher know of my childhood missionary connection to China and to ask her to arrange for me to meet the pastor.
She took us down several flights to the lower level where the offices were. In one office were a couple of gentlemen, one of whom gave me his card indicating he was the administrative director for the church. The other, I guessed was probably a calling pastor of some sort. I shared with them my missionary past and that my father had been instrumental in starting the Tientsin Bible Seminary. They were well aware of the seminary and informed me that the seminary building was now a Communist training school, which I said I knew.
But they added that the seminary was still operating. It had been moved to Beijing and combined with the seminary there. They also informed me that the last principal of the seminary before it was closed in Tientsin was still living and had an apartment back of the old seminary building. They gave me the name and address but time did not permit us looking him up, much to my disappointment.
I asked what the roots of this church were and the usher responded through John: "We are Wesleyan." I was speechless for a moment for the comments already shared about the seminary indicated that these people could well be second/third generation results of the Bible Seminary and National Holiness efforts decades ago in Tientsin. Further conversation with these three, the usher and the two pastors, was almost overwhelming as I realized that this huge congregation of well over five thousand committed Christians was undoubtedly the result of my folks' efforts!
I wanted to enjoy the service so we went back up to the second balcony to join the others. By now, the regular service had begun. As I entered, I could tell by the cadence that the congregation was reciting the Lord's prayer. After all the articles I had read in our media about controlled and persecuted churches, what we were experiencing was exhilarating, to say the least.
The Lord's prayer was followed by singing and the typical evangelical praise and worship service pattern with prayer and special singing by the choir. It was all so typical of a Methodist or holiness church service that my feelings cannot be adequately described. People were singing and entering into the service with sincerity and conviction. The pastor preached with eloquence. His text was Jesus conversation with the woman at the well and both Ray and I could pick out some of the terms particularly his references to Christ or 'Yesu'.
While down in the office I asked if I could take pictures during the service and they indicated no problem. So, even though I'd advised the others not to take pictures, I went ahead and took videos of the singing and some of the preaching!
When the service ended several were praying at the altar following dismissal. We also were intrigued by the number of young people in the service. It seemed like half or more of the congregation were in there 20s or 30s, many, if not most, were carrying Bibles.
I videoed several young people in a row behind us and they smiled and giggled. When I asked if any could speak English, most just giggled some more, but one young man replied in excellent English, "Yes, I do!" and laughed. I asked where he'd learned to speak English. "I was born and grew up in New York," he responded, " and got my doctorate at Princeton University." He was a professor at a university in Tientsin and had been there a year or two. I commented on the openness of the worship service, the evidence of Bibles, etc. and remarked on the misconception in the United States that the Chinese government was very anti-Christian. He laughed and commented that what the media tell us in the United States about China and oppression is far from true and the same is probably true in reverse.
We visited with several people afterwards, including one old gentlemen who really cornered us. He'd known some missionaries, including Eric Liddell, the Olympic star about which the movie had been made, and was doing some writing about this. He wanted us to have a draft of his document, which I accepted, and he had to bend my ear for several minutes about his background and relationship with Liddell.
Interestingly, as we got back on the van, Betty, who had listened with high interest during the service, asked Pete if she could look at his Bible, which was a Good News edition. Of course, he handed it to her and, after glancing through it for a few minutes she returned it. Pete asked me if it would be proper to let her have the Bible and I urged him to do so, which he did. Betty accepted with gratitude. For the rest of the day she held it in her hand -never placing it in her clutch bag-as we went to lunch, to the waiting room, and boarded the train. When she waved good by to us that afternoon she was still holding tightly to it. I felt there was more to her handling of the Bible than some might assume. In fact, I told Louise I would not be surprised if she and her husband didn't attend the church again in the weeks following.
By the time we left the church it was past 11:30 so we went on to the train station and to the first class waiting area. Most of us wandered over to McDonald's which was nearby, for some lunch. About 1 p.m. we boarded the train for the eight hour or so ride to Handan. We had two sleeping rooms among the eight of us. The train ride gave us a chance to see the country side and review these first few days.