Posted by Joel
Recently, one of my students mentioned her Christian beliefs in an in-class writing assignment. I was a little surprised, since as an American I’ve been kind of conditioned to believe that here in Communist China, you’ve either gotta be hush-hush about religion or not practice it at all.
So I was intrigued to see this blatant mention of Christianity in my class, and I contacted my student via QQ (a popular Chinese chat program similar to AOL IM) and asked her if she could tell me anything about churches in Shaoxing.
“Of course,” she replied. “I am the churcher.”
Not the most standard of Englishes, but you get her meaning, I think. She told me that there was a Christian student association here on campus, which meets on Sundays, and also that there was a church in downtown Shaoxing. We’d heard about it, but didn’t know how to find it.
Yesterday, we were out and about on some errands* when we stumbled across the church, which is situated on a very commercial street between a hospital and some trendy clothing shops. It was very traditional-looking – the overall impression was similar to something like an American Presybterian church built in the 1970s, although I think this church is actually pretty new. The front entrance was blocked by imposing-looking metal bars and locked gates.
I saw a group of five older women who looked like they might be on their way to the church and caught their eye. They seemed to understand that we wanted to come in, and they motioned for us to come to the side entrance, where they rang a doorbell.
Once we got inside, we tried to explain that we wanted to come to a church service, but didn’t know what time to come. (I had heard there was a service at 5 pm, but it was 4:55 and no one was there.) With our limited Chinese and their non-existent English, we weren’t able to communicate much, but we did get something across.
“Keyi zhi women lai?” “Can we come here?” I asked.
“Lai le!” “Come in!” they insisted.
“Zenme ni shuo zhe na ge?” “How do you say the name of this place?”
“Jidu (something) ,” one replied. I thought I heard Jesus and house — church.
“Ah,” I said. “Women shi Jidu ren!” “We are Jesus people!” (I don’t know the Chinese word for Christian.)
“Ah,” one of the women said. She smiled and pointed to us, then and pointed to herself and the rest of her group. She made a circle with her arms, as if she were embracing all of us – as if her arms were circling the world. I didn’t understand her Chinese, but I knew exactly what she meant. I knew we were home.
* Errands included a trip to the Yi Gao (E-GO) supermarket (kind of like Best Buy, only all the stalls are independent sellers of electronics goods) to get a new charger for our laptop, a stationary store for some scotch tape, a DVD store where we were introduced to the infamous “back room” full of not-exactly-legal copies of foreign movies for about $1 apiece – we bought seven – and a Mongolian-style hotpot restaurant called “Little Sheep.” Hotpot is similar to a fondue restaurant: a gas burner is embedded in the center of each table, upon which a giant pot of broth is set (either spicy or non, or both depending on your preference). You order what sorts of vegetables and meats to put into the broth, and cook them yourself. We had thin slices of leg of lamb, fish balls, cabbage, and cilantro to dip into our boiling broth. It was extremely delicious, and extremely spicy.