Day 3: Nanjing
Monday, July 11, 2005
This morning we awoke in our newest location: Nanjing, the capital city of southern China. Nanjing is a busy “little” city (by Chinese standards) of some 6 million people; more than 1 million of which are Christian in faith and lifestyle. Although Nanjing was actually at one time the capital city of all China, the unfortunate events and tragic aftermath of the Japanese attack on the city during World War II forced the capital to relocate. The beautiful, wide, tree-lined streets remain today as a bold reminder of this city’s rich and stately history.
As we rose we could hear the city waking outside our windows and, since we had gotten in so late the night before, all of us in our respective rooms were pulling open the drapes to see what our views held. To the dismay of those on one side of the building, the picture was one of poverty reminding us of the different lives we lead in our homes on the other side of the planet. Migrant workers from the country, needing to support themselves and their families, have moved into the city to help demolish the apartment buildings being torn down for new construction. They live in boxes loosely covered with plastic sheeting, and they salvage what they can from the deconstruction to sell and eke out a living. There are so many people in China, and each one must have a place to work, and live, and be. Struggles that may seem insurmountable to an American are simply handled by the Chinese.
After yet another sumptuous breakfast, we were to have started our day with a trip to the tomb of Dr. Sun Yat Sen; however, this is an outdoor hike and climb, and the rain was pretty steady, so the group opted for a driving tour of the tomb area followed by a visit to a Buddhist Temple. This diversion proved to be, once again, God’s divine intervention providing us with an extraordinary blessing not one of us will soon forget.
As we approached the temple, the crowd seemed unusually thick for a regular Monday. There was a lot of traffic and police were surrounding every gate and entrance. As the Temple came into view, the yellow bunting gathered with large jet black bows revealed the reason for such crowds: a well-known monk had died and was lying in state so that his devoted followers could pay their last respects to their beloved teacher. We learned that just the day before, a stunning 20,000 had passed through the temple, and more were expected on this day. As we approached the tent where the procession was taking place, we did so with trepidation, expecting to see grieving, keening people. To our surprise, the gathered crowd was smiling and blessing one another as a beautiful chant filled the air over and over again, giving us all such a sense of peace and belonging, we just stood transfixed. Some of us were approached by members of this gathering, still chanting, and bowing to us. We returned the nod and were surrounded by such love, and one of the ladies, who was educated in a Christian school, proceeded to tell us why this monk’s death had drawn such a gathering on this day.
He was very well loved and respected, and, although he had died 6 days ago, they believe that he had not yet left for his afterlife because that doesn’t happen until the 7th day. This being the 7th day, the woman told us that they would burn his body that evening to send him on to the next life. There was no sadness that day – not for her or anyone else in that crowd. There was simply happiness, peace, and joy in their hearts. As we looked into her eyes and were drawn in by her loving kindness and warm smile, all of us agreed later that the love in that gathering was tangible, palpable proof that God is with all of us, sometimes in the most mysterious of ways.
Our visit to the Nanjing Museum almost paled in comparison, but not entirely. Specializing in Chinese art and artifacts, visitors are able to see a huge, story-high silk-weaving loom in operation; jade, lacquer and gold artifacts dating back as far as 400 B.C.; calligraphy, paintings and embroidery – and these are just a sampling of the exhibits within this clean, modern, and exquisitely decorated museum. The gift shop also provided us with a little time for shopping, so some Moms and friends at home may be seeing some carefully selected works of Chinese art when we get back to the States. The exhibits were fabulous and the shopping was fun, but as we left the museum, the Buddhist chant was still in our hearts and on our minds. Was it just plain luck that made us change our plans and head for a Buddhist temple that day? We think not. And in carrying our discussion to the lunch table (another unbelievable and delicious array of foods) we all agreed that it was indeed the most powerful and meaningful event of our pilgrimage so far.
Hard to believe our day was only half over, but after a little snooze we set out again for the next phase of our day. First stop: Nanjing Seminary. Hosted by Seminary staff, a member of the faculty, and one of the students, we learned about the courses of study, the cost for tuition ($0) and we were given a tour. Our kids found it not only interested but intriguing and, back on the bus, there was even some discussion of – why not? -- the possibility of higher education in China.
A brief stop at the Amity Christian Art Center is always a welcome addition to a tour in Nanjing, where members of our group were able to purchase a variety of hand-made Christian art: banners and stoles, hand-carved wooden crèches and other figures, crosses, paper cuttings, and more. All of the items are hand made and the proceeds from their sale are used for Christian and charitable work by the Amity Foundation; programs supporting children, villages, farms, etc.
The second half of our afternoon was spent in the Confucius Temple Area. This Song dynasty temple venerates Confucianism, named for the sage Confucius whose philosophy of social behavior taught the Chinese people codes, rules and conducts for their behavior. There are several Confucian temples throughout China and Cathy informs us that this one still contains cells where students prepared for the official imperial examinations; an essential step in the selection process up the ladder of the conservative elite that was eventually reformed out of existence. For a period of three days and two nights in solitary confinement, intense examinations tested the candidates’ knowledge of Confucianism. To prevent cheating, the examinee had to change all clothing before entering the cell and once the cell was sealed it could not be open again until the exam was over – even in the case of death. (If this happened, a hole was cut in the wall and the body was removed.) Cathy also points out the three front doors to the temple – the center one for the emperor, and the flanking ones for officials. The door for the common man is nowhere to be seen, a symbolic reminder of that era. This temple is now surrounded by a lively shopping and entertainment area with shops and eateries of all kinds, paddle-boating on the Qinhuai River, street performers, and more. We strolled the mini-shops learning how to barter for silk and calligraphy, and it was dusk by the time we had had enough and were ready to eat – again.
Cathy took us on a whole new adventure for dinner – a place where the locals eat. This restaurant is to Nanjing what a chowder house is to New England, or a barbecue rib joint is to Texas. Each dumpling, each egg, each little cake was served in its own individual dish (smaller than a standard coaster) to each diner.
What a variety of interesting foods, and what fun to watch the other locals gather at the banquet-sized tables for this sampling of fare. The evening was made complete when a well-dressed, microphone-bearing young man took to the stage. Karaoke, we thought? No, this man visits each different dining room and imparts just one heartfelt ballad that tells of the beauty and allure of this special country, China.
After our dessert of watermelon and tea, Cathy had one more surprise for the day. She invited us to visit her home – an apartment she shares with her husband, Walter, and son, Michael (who has also spent the day with us), on the sixth floor of a good-sized apartment complex. The little family proudly shows us their home and, with a little prodding from his mom, Michael shares with us the gift of his talent. On the piano which is one of the main pieces of furniture in their living area, he plays Für Elise for us before we say good night. As we board the bus for the hotel we are reminded once again that, in so many ways, we are truly blessed. It is true: God is good all the time; all the time, God is good.
From the other side of the world,
Your loving band of pilgrims,
Megan Weymouth, Dana Baker, Pam Koller, Peggy Matteson, Daniel McDuffie, Alicia Perras, and Joe Tripp