November 19, 2006

This week’s Church service opened up with Psalm 123 followed by the message to not love the things in the world, the desires of the flesh and eyes, the boasting of the riches one has, or the pride of what one does for a living as recorded in 1 John 2:15-17. The hymnal songs were “Heavenly Lights, Jesus I Come”, “Since Jesus Came Into My Heart” and “Living For Jesus”. After the service we had lunch at a Western Pizza Parlor and then did some grocery shopping before returning to the campus. On Sunday evening Norman, my Freshman English Major Class Monitor invited me to a hot pot (huoguo) dining experience that has a long history in China.

Two new students joined the Sunday evening fellowship group as we discussed how to get the most out of life without taking it to the limit. There is something inside each one of us that wants to explore what it is like to live life to the fullest. It’s human nature to see how close we can get without going over the edge. This message is all around us. Be all you can be! Go for the gusto! Take it to the extreme! From an early age, our culture encourages us to push the limits physically, emotionally and experientially. This is especially noticeable here in China where success, it seems, is determined by a frenetic philosophy how much we can squeeze out of each and every opportunity in life. Students are overloaded; their schedules maxed out, free time almost non-existent, mandatory early morning’s exercises strangling; and coupled with insatiable academic expectations, creates a lifestyle that simply is not sustainable for long.

This kind of life is dangerous. Just this week we heard on campus that another female postgraduate at Fudan University plunged to her death from a campus building on Monday. She’s the second female postgraduate to commit suicide at the university in a month. A third-year female doctoral student jumped to her death from the university’s tallest dorm building in October. The closer we approach our limits, the less margins and greater potential we have to burn ourselves out, as well as those around us. The teaching lesson for the evening was that the secret to getting more out of life is not doing more, but doing less and to encourage participants to identify the underlying fears of missing out, falling behind, or not mattering in the eyes of others. When God created us, He created us with limits. By identifying and applying His truth to create margin in our lives we can avoid the pitfalls of anxiety, conflict and depression and regain control to live a life less threatening and lot more enjoyable and productive.

On Wednesday the Deputy Dean, Liu Yanchun (Long Fellow) of the Foreign Language Department invited me to join him and his personnel staff for lunch for the purpose to get to know each other better since I was an integral part of his team. After class we all rode our bicycles to his favored Chinese Restaurant outside the campus were we enjoyed some great fellowship and food. Feeling appreciated being asked to join them I wrote him a thank you email afterwards and attached the photos I took at the luncheon. Here is his uncensored reply: “It is our great honor to invite you to have luncheon together with us. I am so glad that you have been a critical member of our team. You know that you are capable of being my teacher at the first sight of you; I HAVE SO MUCH TO LEARN FROM YOU! Thank you for taking such beautiful pictures for us.” Relationships and friendship moments as such make every minute of my stay in China a worthwhile one.

Also on Wednesday they finally turned on the steam heat system on campus bringing with it some peculiar and annoying noises during the first couple of nights. The sound of water gurgling through the cast iron radiators as they warmed up together with the hissing, cracking and popping sounds made sleeping impossible. The most annoying noise was the sounds coming from the pipes. The knocks were loud enough that you would swear someone was banging on the pipes with a hammer. I was glad to see someone from the facility management to come by the apartment and bleed the air out of the radiators making sleeping again a more peaceful activity.

As a lover of the Chinese culture, and for informational purpose for my friends at home, here are some satirical insights I learned since I came to live here at this University. First off, I’d like to mention that China messes with your body. Especially when you first get here. Systems most notably affected include the digestive and respiratory systems. We’re talking serious diarrhea here, and dirty air. It also helps if you’re pretty healthy. Sure, they have “modern” medical facilities here, but the standards may not quite be up to what you have come to expect in the West. Solution? Don’t get sick, and don’t get hurt!

About that food thing again… You’ll have some difficulty. This isn’t “Panda Express,” folks. Inconveniences include little rocks in your rice, tons of tiny, tiny little bones in the fish, pieces of chopped up bones inside meat. Then there’s also the food that’s just plain not good (like chicken feet, worms, bugs), or hazardous to your intestinal tract. But be adventurous anyway! You’ll learn soon enough what not to eat. Diarrhea is a harsh but effective teacher!

There are some seriously rank odors out there on the street and in most buildings and restaurants. Rotting organic matter, urine, feces, and stinky tofu…. But don’t worry; soon you’ll be gleefully playing “name that odor” with your Chinese friends! Pollution is pretty bad, too. It might even make your eyes water some days, especially if you come from some wussy place with really clean air. Dust is everywhere. Chinese people don’t sit on the floor or ground or non-designated sitting places because everything is dirty. You’ll get big time dirty, if you want to or not! So you might find yourself doing a lot of washing and showering at first. That’s OK, though. Soon you’ll learn — filth is fun. It gives you “China stories” to call home about!

Environmental protection has not exactly “caught on” yet in China. You might find this disturbing at first, and think about it a lot. Don’t worry; soon you’ll be wallowing in toxic apathy with the rest of us! If you’re coming to China, I hope you’re not too tall. That can be inconvenient sometimes. And don’t get too attached to elevators. In schools and apartment buildings with 7 stories or less, there are no elevators. According to Chinese building codes, elevators are only required in buildings taller than 7 stories. Hey, it’s cool. And you get plenty of exercise going up and down! Elevators are for capitalist wusses!

You might be impressed by the amount of computers in use in China. Smoke filled; dark lit Internet cafes are everywhere. You won’t be impressed for too long, though, because building code standards are so low that buildings everywhere are already falling apart scant years after they’re completed. Another weird thing about China is that even though Mandarin supposedly is the official language of the entire country, there are tons of dialects that are incomprehensible to the uninitiated. Especially outside the big cities, every town seems to have a separate dialect!

The good news is that stuff in China is really cheap! Sure, the quality might not be quite up to the standards you’re used to, but you’ll get over that. When stuff is this cheap, you can just keep re-buying it every time it falls apart or doesn’t work any longer! Neat! There’s lots more surprises waiting for you in China, so come on over! Before long you’ll be familiar with the slew of inconveniences inherent to life here. Then you won’t be annoyed — rather, you’ll accept them with a smile and say”that’s China!”

Don’t get me wrong, my musings are meant only to shed some light onto the living conditions here as I really have a great love for China. The teaching theme for this week was “Critical Thinking”. Since most of my Chinese students are postgraduate Engineers I gave them the following assignment for which they had to find the solution:

There was a man who lived in a 14-story apartment building. Every morning he went to work and pressed the button in the elevator for the lobby. He then got in his car and drove to work. When he came home in the evening he took the elevator, pressed the 7th floor button, got out and climbed the stairs from the 7th floor to the 14th floor. Why didn’t he ride the elevator up to his floor?

If you don’t know the answer you can email me for the solution to this critical thinking assignment. On the funny side I heard this week the “Chinese Tale about the Wild Goose”. Two hunters saw a wild goose fly overhead. As one of the hunters placed an arrow in his bow and aimed it at the goose, he said, “that goose will make a fine stew.” “Stew!” said the other. “It would be far better to roast it.” “Stewed!” said the first, putting down his arrow. “Roasted!” replied the other. The argument went on. “Let’s ask our clan leader to decide the best way to cook that goose.” The leader settled the argument by suggesting that when they caught the goose, half should be stewed and half should be roasted. In that way, everyone’s needs would be met. Pleased, the two hunters went out to shoot the wild goose, but by that time, the goose was safely long gone . . .

I so appreciate your prayers as God is doing some amazing things here. Thank you for the significant rope holder role you play as you help me make Him known. The Kingdom is truly advancing because of your efforts… and I give God praise for allowing me to be involved with His work. As usual, please let me know if I can be praying specifics for you.

A man should choose a friend who is better than him. There are plenty of acquaintances in the world; but very few real friends. Chinese Proverb

Until next week…

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