Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Observations from Shanghai

- This is a much more westernized city then I expected. (Though I increasingly think global is a better word than Western to describe what I mean.) There is a Starbucks on every corner here as well. The consumerism might actually be more rampant here than in the US. To illustrate how far from communism China has moved to capitalism: In the downtown part of Shanghai there is a historic marker for where the first 11 communists meet to begin the “revolution”. It was Mao’s house. Today the majority of the property is a mall.

- Shanghai is a huge freakin’ city with lots of people. I mean 20 million people (if you include the constant flow of expats, tourists, and general travelers). Which means it is very crowded and loud. I really appreciate my neighborhood back in St. Francis. 10 years ago all these people where on bikes, but now they are driving cars. If you ever wonder how Volkswagen survives as a company, it is because they scored a deal with the Taxi service in Shanghai, they are all VW’s. There are still plenty of bikes and mopeds. What drives me nuts is that most of the mopeds have squeaky brakes that make you want to scream.

- Very international town. I have found a European style coffee house nearby where I like to sit and read most of the afternoon. There must have been four or five languages being spoken today in this small little shop.

- The greatest experience about this international presence by far has been church. Michelle and I attended Shanghai International Fellowship on Sunday. The church is an old Lutheran German style cathedral and the place was packed. We worshiped with around 350 people from 60 different countries. The closest experience to heaven I have had.

- Also need to dispel the myth about Christians being persecuted here. Maybe it is different in some rural areas, but at church on Sunday the President of the Chinese Council of Churches gave a report about the church in China. She spoke very critically of the “cultural revolution” and also explained all that has occurred since churches were reopened in 1980. She said that there are over 55,000 churches in China today. That is Church buildings. This is still small considering there are 1.5 Billion people living here. The church is censored though, but not persecuted. You might ask what the difference is, and I what say that no one is going to jail for being a Christian, or even for proselytizing. However, like all institutions the Church is under the ever watchful eye of the “party.” All people need to be careful not to speak too critically of the “party.” But even this is ever changing. I would say the church here is in greater danger of the same danger zone of consumerism that Americans are.

- People here are really really rude. I do not how many times I have been cut off, skipped in line, and stared in just over a week. Cars have no regard for traffic laws, I seriously risk my life every time I get in a cab. As our friend Andy says, “In America cars look out for people, in China people look out for cars.” Do not be surprised if at some point my blog entry is a story about me being hit by a car. Just the other day I had to slam on the back of Mercedes that was backing up on the sidewalk and was about to hit me. To illustrate my point: We live right by Haushan Hospital so a lot of ambulances come through the area. In America cars get out of the way. I realize it is the law, but I think they would even if there wasn’t a law. Yesterday I watched an ambulance have to wait at a red light, when all a taxi had to do was move over a few feet and the Ambulance could have passed. When the light turned no cars got out of the way; taxis even cut off the ambulance.

- The food is amazing. Asia just does food well (at least from my experiences in Thailand and now China). Always fresh, always tasty. Ironically the best has been an Indian place called Kaveen’s Kitchen. If you come to Shanghai it is located at the intersection of Yayuan Lu and Hushahn Lu (across from the Hilton.). I recommend the Daal, Chicken Tikka Masala, and the garlic Nan.

- I found a liquor that rivals my love for scotch. Bi jo (sp?) It is even stronger than scotch and has a slightly sweeter taste. Though it will give you a quick buzz so be careful.

- Greatest Irony: In Shanghai the US consulate is right next door to the Iranian consulate.

- Interesting history – Do you know where the verb Shanghaied comes from? Shanghai has a long history as a port town. At the turn of the century it was called the “Paris of the East”. Anyway it also had a reputation as a party town, opium houses, gambling, liquor, and burlesque houses. Sailors would port in Shanghai and not want to leave. So captains began drugging them and dragging them back to the ship and would set sail before they woke. The sailors had to sail, and were thus shanghaied.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Lost In Translation

We had been in the hotel for about a day in Shanghai, and I made a comment to Michelle, “Have you noticed the toilet is running.”

She replied, “You should call them and let them know.”

I knew she was right, but I had my reluctance for some reason…

“Hewo Meester Phwillips, may weee helwp you?”

“Yeah, the toilet is running, could you send someone to fix it.”
Then I realized they did not know what “a running toilet” means. “The toilet is making noise, could you fix it?”

About five minutes there was a knock on the door, and sure enough a member of engineering showed up. He had a plunger in hand, and did not speak a word of English. I guess they figured I meant the toilet was clogged.

Except the strange thing is that he did not even use the plunger on the toilet, he used it on the sink. He started to plunge the sink. Then he began to take apart the drain pipes of the sink. Michelle and I tried to explain that it was the toilet and not the sink which was broken. As we were explaining we were pointing at the toilet, so he looked at us and then he put the toilet seat up and then goes back to working on the sink. Mind you the whole time anyone can hear the toilet is running, no matter what language you speak.

So, Michelle and I left to room to work out. When we came back the man was gone, but the toilet was still running.

The next morning as I am working at my computer in the room (its about 9AM) there is a knock at the door. The same man from the previous evening is at the door, with his plunger. He repeats the same steps from the previous evening. He comes out after about 10 minutes and tries to explain something to me in Chinese. I think he is saying the drain is clogged. Clearly it is working fine, the water goes down. He leaves.

Not more than a few minutes pass when the fellow returns with another man, who is carrying a bigger plunger. Repeat steps (plunge sink, pull apart pipes, wash, etc). At this point I call down to explain they are working on the wrong problem. Reception just wants to make sure they are in the room working, and offers me a new room. I try to explain I am not looking for a new room, but for the toilet to be fixed, and the not the sink which is working fine. They offer to change my room, and I again explain that engineering is working on the wrong problem. Reception transfers me to the assistant manger, repeat same conversation.

At this point, the two “plumbers” have dragged the fire house from the hallway and have it pointed down the drain pipe. I decide to leave.

On my way out of the lobby I stop by the assistant manager hoping they speak English well enough so I can explain what is going on. They seem to understand and escort me back to my room. At this point the manger says something in Chinese to the “plumbers”, and then asks me if I would like a new room. I explain that is not necessary, I just want them to fix the toilet and not the sink. At this point the manger kicks the two men out of the room, and asks me to contact them when it would be convenient to work on the bathroom.

After they leave I pop open the toilet and fix it in two minutes.

Next time I will tell them the sink is broken so that they fix the toliet.

Friday, June 09, 2006

China, Here We Come

So the day has finally arrived. Tomorrow morning at 9:15 Michelle and I are boarding a plane for Chicago. From Chicago we will fly direct to Shanghai. We will spend the rest of June in Shanghai, and then a week in Beijing, and the rest of the summer in Hong Kong. I will head home in August, and then begin my new position as Pastor of Family Ministries as Southbrook Church.

A lot of people I deeply respect have been asking me what I am going to do, and what I expect during the time in China. Truthfully I am not entirely sure what to expect. Michelle will be really busy. Asians work crazy hours. I have very little responsibility while in Asia. My days will be free to sightsee, read, reflect, and well rest. So as far as day to day activities go, I have no real expectations.

However, I do have an expectation for the summer. This is a tremendous opportunity for spiritual formation. I will be out of my comfort zone it just about every way. No home, different food. For the first time in my life I will be a minority. It will be quite an experience. So I have a backpacking guitar on load from Brandon, and a stack of books, which I fear will not be enough to get me through. I also hope to read some on Chinese history and also the all important Chinese cooking.

If you are coming to China or want to, drop us a line. I will have plenty of time to show you around.