Part VI: Tourists Again!
Thursday morning, after our last breakfast in Handan, we headed for Shijazhuang, about a three hour drive. This was the end of our missionary era review and it had been an eventful one. The churches in Tianjin (Tientsin), Diming (Taming), Laoching (Tungchangfu), Gwanto (Nankwantao) and Handan provided evidence of the fruits of the labors of our parents and other missionaries. We were also impressed with the construction occurring everywhere. In towns, cities, even in the countryside roads were being paved, all sorts of building--factories, office skyscrapers, hotels--demonstrated the vibrancy and commitment of the Chinese as they move toward being a significant force in a global society.
Since the plane for Xian, where the terra cotta soldiers museum was featured, didn't leave until early evening, we had the afternoon in Shijazhuang. This is another busy inland city with well over a million population and many stores, wide boulevards and much building going on. We went down town first to the KFC and MacDonald restaurants which were practically side by side. KFC drew our attention first. It was crowded and we had to sit separately, pretty much in pairs, for lunch. After eating, Ray and John decided to go off on their own while David and Michelle wanted to just sit around so Del, Marj, Pete, Louise, and I took a walk down the main street, eventually finding a large department store about eight blocks away, where Louise bought a teapot for Barbara. We passed by many shops and a multi story government building with a large statue of Mao in front. Marj had an Advantage camera and was having difficulty finding film so we stopped at about every film shop along the way, to no avail.
Ed outside the KFC in Shijazhuang
Around five we gathered in McDonalds to wait for the van. David and Michelle had encountered an American basketball player from Fort Hays State who was playing pro ball in China for the Shijazhuang team. He had the same last name as Ray but was no relation, at least not close enough to count, but an interesting connection.
Ray had gotten a haircut and massage and, as usual, gotten into conversations with several, including a university student in the lineup at McDonalds. She had studied in Russia at a university in Moscow and spoke excellent English.
We arrived at the airport an hour or more before flight time. Our airline was Hainan airlines, same name as the resort island where the US spy bomber had landed a few weeks earlier. Incidentally, except for the conversation I generated with the taxi driver in Beijing, no one ever brought up that, or any other political topic.
Our plane was ready for boarding. It was a 35 passenger prop jet, two seats on each side. We arrived in Xian about 9:20 p.m., met Harry, our local guide, and headed for the hotel, a trip which took about an hour. We were back on the tourist track again, away from the 'real people'! Harry was an historian of sorts and gave us valuable background on China's history, the dynasties, as well as its people. He pointed out that religions did exist in China and about ten per cent [his figures] of the people were religious. The largest group was 'Christian' (Protestant), next Catholics, then Muslims, and probably Buddhists and Taoists. However, 90 per cent are atheists because 'we know that the future lies in ourselves and in science and technology'. There belief in science and technology was certainly borne out in what we saw and heard, and their belief in themselves as self sufficient would support the atheistic and communistic contention that religion is for the weak who need an excuse or support to fall back on.
The hotel was modern, a four star, and prepared for foreigners. Our breakfast in the morning was western buffet complete with toast, bacon, eggs and orange juice! In fact, both here and in Shanghai, breakfast at least, was very western and very good!! The cooks were skilled at frying eggs and flipping them expertly for 'over easy'.
Our first stop was a Buddhist temple, then on to a souvenir store loaded with stuff related to the terra cotta soldiers. They made a good haul on our group even though we were few! A salesperson is assigned to every prospect/couple and follows around encouraging buying. Of course, bargaining comes into play and they are skilled at getting you to think you are really getting a deal! I suspect the guide also gets a percentage of the sales!
From there to a hotel/souvenir store for lunch which was in a large dining area filled with sets of tourists, each with their own table. Again there were several purchases including getting our grandkids some Chinese hats which we negotiated down from about 100 or so yuan to 40 or so.
The ancient Terra Cotta soldiers in Xian
Finally, in early afternoon, we were at the terra cotta museum, the highlight of Xian. Pictures were not allowed in the museum but in the store the farmer who had discovered the first figure while digging for a well was available to sign autographs in the souvenir book which described the discovery and development of the soldiers. Louise bought the book and had her picture taken with him.
The exhibit itself was very impressive. The emperor had apparently wanted to be protected in death from his enemies so had a burial tomb or mound with all these life size replicas of his army made and placed in battle formation a mile or so in front of the tomb. The whole area was several square miles and the huge buildings where the soldiers were, covered several acres. The buildings, there were three, were the size of a large enclosed football stadium or baseball field!
Sometime in the distant past the 'army' had been vandalized and the soldiers broken in pieces. Since the discovery, archeologists and their helpers have been painstakingly restoring the life size figures. Probably about a third of the area had been excavated and several hundred soldiers restored and in returned to their formation. Also restored were the officer's command post and some horses and weapons.
We went from the museum back to Xian and to the 'towers'. In the city itself are a bell tower and drum tower. The large bell in the bell tower was rung each morning to signal the start of the day, and the huge drum in the drum tower about a half mile away, was struck to signal the end if the day. From the top of the drum tower one could look over the city and see both old and new. Older buildings are giving way to large office and business buildings, as are slum type apartments and homes.
We headed from there back to the hotel, once again encountering a classic traffic jam. Vehicles turn right without stopping and weave in and out. In this instance, we were going down a narrow two lane street. At an intersection with a major four or six lane avenue several trucks and buses had met, all deciding to turn one way or another and wound up in a jam because the narrow street we were on wasn't wide enough for some of the larger vehicles. After much jockeying and considerable patience by the drivers, our van squeezed past. What happened to the rest we'll never know, but knowing how they handle these problems, eventually they no doubt also made it out of the mess and were on their way!
Louise, Pete, and I were the only ones up to attending a traditional musical show that evening so Harry took us in a taxi to the theater. The taxi ride itself was somewhat of an adventure as, being a smaller vehicle, the driver could weave through the traffic more effectively than with a van. In the city one must remember not to sit in the front passenger seat unless one is a real thrill seeker. Traffic whizzes by at close range much faster there than in the back seat! Sitting in a window seat in the back was bad enough!
The musical was excellent. We had seats in the center about three rows back and there were only about 70 people in the audience although the theatre easily seated over a thousand. The staging and costumes were outstanding as was the music and acting. The show lasted a little less than two hours and was followed by a 'meet the cast' time with opportunity to take pictures. Unfortunately, we'd failed to bring cameras so left when the show concluded and returned to the hotel. The troupe is apparently subsided by the government.
The next day we headed out early for the flight to Shanghai. This was on a Northwest subsidiary airline with a full sized plane and was an uneventful flight. A pleasant practice we found interesting was that the domestic flights all provided us with the English editions of the day's newspaper, either China daily or Shanghai daily.
We arrived in Shanghai around 10:30 a.m. and reached the hotel shortly before noon. This was a 'free afternoon' which meant no van or guide service. So, John showed us the subway entrance which was just below the hotel, and explained its operation then provided us with a map, and pointed out the downtown area. David and Michelle chose to stay in the hotel but the rest of us caught the subway to where major stores supposedly were. A KFC was located a short way from the subway station so we went in there for lunch. As usual, it was crowded and we battled to find seating.
We then wandered down the main street, not finding any major stores but did come to one fairly large department store where Ray, Louise, and Marjorie started shopping. Del and I sat on the steps outside, joined by Pete after he tired of trailing the others in the store. Finally, we decided to cross the street and have some ice cream at a Haagens-Daz store. How they stayed in business is amazing as a single cone dish of ice cream was the equivalent of $3 USD!
Around 4 p.m. we had tired ourselves out sufficiently so we headed back to the hotel. After dinner, Louise and I took the subway on our own to another section of the city where the guidebook indicated some English and foreign language bookstores were located. We found several book stores, including a foreign language one, but their inventory was very routine and limited. Prices also were no better than one would find in the states. About eight we returned to the hotel for the evening.
Sunday was our day to tour Shanghai with John who was quite proud of his city. I'd asked him to locate a Christian church which some of us might want to attend. Sunday morning he said he had located a church near the museum, the 'moen' church. I thought this was one of the Moon churches so said 'no way' but he corrected it as being the 'mo en' church, a Chinese term which means something about a spiritual church. Since we were scheduled for the famed Shanghai museum when it opened at nine most chose to go there but Pete went with me to the church at 8:30. We were dropped off at the church which was only a short walk from the museum.
We entered the church around 8:45. They were having a 'pre service' similar to Tientsin with a song service going on. The building was the original Moore Methodist church in Shanghai and probably had been a major church for Americans and English before WWII but was now Chinese. It was a large stone building with stained glass windows still intact. It had been re- opened in 1979 and quite obviously the congregation had old fashioned Methodist roots judging from the songs being sung and the nature of the worship service.
After a few inquiries we met a young man entering the church who spoke English. He was from Singapore and came up frequently on business attending services when here. Again we found many young people present and a full building. We went in on the balcony level. The auditorium below probably seated at least 1200 with a balcony on three sides that probably held another 800 or more. Our friend told us they had four services each Sunday which were all packed out, had youth service during the week with about 150 20/30 year olds participating as well as many Bible study groups.
The Museum in Shanghai
He also told us that as a registered church with the Three Self movement [and all the churches we contacted except the one in Beijing, were registered] the sermons are reviewed and they cannot preach on prophecy or on divine healing. Other than that there are no particular restrictions except, of course, in the political arena. [The three self movement stresses self support, self government, and self propagation]
We left at the break between the pre service and worship service to avoid disturbing and went into the bookshop where I bought an English/Chinese hymnal for about 18 yuan as I wanted to have an example of their songs which were the traditional old hymns of the church.
Pete's diabetes was acting up so we finally found someone who could tell us where the water closet was. Then we walked on back to the museum.
During our two weeks we had contacted seven churches, discovered all to be growing, vibrant, open, and spiritual. Our experience certainly belied much of what we hear about the church in China from the media and from some of the fundamentalist groups in the United States.
The Shanghai museum justifies its billing as one of the best and we spent a short couple of hours there but needed to move on. We went back to the hotel for a break, then on to the Bund, the busy commercial center, both past and present, of Shanghai and to the harbor and waterfront. From there to a small tea shop where attendants demonstrated different types of tea, gave us samples and, of course, invited us to purchase some-which several did.
From there to a Friendship store which had a Chinese restaurant catering to the tourist trade, of course, where we had our last Chinese lunch. After lunch we drove to a large and traditional Chinese bazaar designed for tourists. Inside was a magnificent garden built centuries ago by a wealthy Chinese who went broke over the cost. It had been preserved, including surviving the Japanese occupation. The bazaar was a layout of scores of small shops of all types as well as opportunity to ride a traditional rickshaw and four man sedan chair. Among all these typical Chinese shops was a Starbucks which was jammed so we didn't get in.
With the day waning we returned to the hotel about 5:30 for dinner. John had so enjoyed us he wanted us to meet his fiancÚ, Cathleen. She was waiting at the hotel for him and us but John had a 7 p.m. appointment so felt they couldn't stay for dinner. We quickly moved our dinner hour to six on the condition they'd promise to stay, which they did. John and Cathleen were our honored guests for dinner and as we sat around the table I invited us to bow for prayer. I prayed specifically for John and Cathleen, not knowing how he would take it and was pleasantly surprised when, following the prayer, his first comment was a very sincere 'thank you', echoed by Cathleen.
Our group at the Shanghai airport. Louise, Ed, John (our escort), David, Michelle, Ray, Marj, Peter and Del
We finished about seven and repaired to our rooms to pack and also to write notes on a memo sheet to John as well as leave his tip in an envelope. His tip amounted to around $200 USD. Earlier he'd suggested that tips should be $1 USD per day for the driver, $2 per day for the local guide and $3 for the tour escort, which we pretty well followed. However, I'm inclined to think that is pretty high and would favor changing the amount to yuans of the same quantity which, it seems to me, would be more realistic.
Monday morning, our return day, I woke up around 5:30, flipped on the TV and caught the last couple of innings of the Mariners-Yankees game which the Mariners won.
Following our 'last' breakfast we packed, brought our bags to the lobby, caught the van and headed for the airport. We were to depart from the new Shanghai airport, completed only a year or so ago, so our drive took over an hour and provided us an opportunity to see major highways and excellent views of the skyline. Shanghai is a city of 16 million with literally scores, maybe hundreds, of skyscrapers dotting the landscape and many more in process.
We arrived at the airport and checked in, including paying our 90 yuan airport tax. From the check in point we checked our bags and showed passports, then to customs where a short form is filled out and visas checked along with our tickets, through the detector to the waiting area. The process was well expedited and took about a half hour or so, although we did have to wait awhile as they were slow in getting the wheel chair for Michelle. We again had to show passports and boarding pass to get on the plane and on the plane we filled out the declaration form for US entry. The flight from Shanghai was uneventful and took about 11 hours. Going through customs in Los Angeles was quick and easy. Outside the gate Louise's cousin, Ernie and his daughter were there to greet us as Del and Marj were going to spend a couple days there before returning home.
Louise, Pete and I caught the flight back to Seattle, where Mary was waiting in the baggage claim area. We got to her place around 6:30 in the evening, loaded up our car and headed home as she had so many guests coming, it would have been inconvenient to stay.
Since our timing was mixed up anyway, we decided to drive straight through and reached home and the end of the journey shortly after 3 a.m.!!