26 October 2012

Volcanic Island

We've been teaching about Canada in our culture class, and also made a weekend trip to a unique volcanic island which has a large Catholic church.
With a couple jigsaw puzzle maps of Canada, groups of 4 students race to do them and they're very happy when all the pieces go together.
The first Sunday of the month is communion at the one Christian (Protestant) church in Qinzhou. The santuary is quite plain, but we are pleased that they have a new digital projector, so we could decipher enough Chinese to see that the pastor was preaching on Romans 7:23-25 "... but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin." Without our bilingual Bible we'd be lost, since no one has spoken to us in English.
It was quite a contrast to visit the large Catholic church on Weizhou Island this past weekend. The island is a recent (in geologic time) volcano, and the church was built from local lava and coral by French entrepreneurs in the 19th century.
The interior is nicely restored, and we attended Sunday morning worship with a couple hundred Chinese.
The island has a lot of Christians, and the service began with antiphonal chanting, alternating between the men on the right side of the congregation and the women on the left. We recorded some video of what was our most uplifting church experience since we left Houston: http://persjohn.net/DSCN1021.AVI (The video link is temporary, we'll delete it after a few weeks to save file space.)
This looked like a little impromptu rosary training after the worship service. The service was lead by two nuns, and with no communion we figured they didn't have a priest that morning.
Weizhou Island is only about 5 km across, and has nice beaches and great seafood.
We stayed over Saturday night at one of the many tourist hotels, and saw the sights on Sunday after church.
The volcanic soil is good for bananas, the main crop on the island, and also for flowers. But we had to make our way back to the ferry for the 40 km crossing to the mainland, and a couple hours on buses to get back home and be ready to teach on Monday morning.

08 October 2012

Golden Week

China's National Day is October 1, and combined with the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival this year most Chinese had an 8-day holiday, called Golden Week. We joined the traveling throngs to see some of the highlights of the province of Sichuan. We flew to Chengdu and joined a Chinese tour, with help from friendly English speakers.
The Leshan Giant Buddha is said to be the largest Buddha statue in the world, 71 meters, seated, carved from a cliff. People crowd around the face at the top, then climb down to the feet.
Looking up, Giant is the word. They say his fingernails are taller than an average human.
The next day we got up at 3:00 am to go to the top of Mount Emei, one of four sacred Buddhist mountains in China, with a golden statue of a 4-faced Buddha on top. It's best on a clear day when the mountain top is above the clouds and you can watch the sun rise, but the weather didn't cooperate for us, and we were in the clouds and mist. And with all the crowds it was long after sunrise when we got to the top, but no matter, we didn't even see the sun all day.
Wednesday we got to sleep in until 4:00 am, before a short flight north from Chengdu to see Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou. Huanglong means "Golden Dragon" in Chinese, named for the colorful travertine formations and pools streching down an 8 km long valley. The tour bus stopped on the way up to buy altitude medication, since the elevation is high, over 11000 feet.
We sea-level dwellers were puffing, but the weather was sunny, and it was the most beautiful day of our Golden Week. The mountains of northern Sichuan connect with Tibet and host a similar culture.
The tour guide didn't speak English, but asked the Chinese tourists if anyone could help us. We were lucky to meet a young Chinese couple who quickly became friends as we realized how much we had in common, in spite of the age and culture differences.
Even more famous than Huanglong is Jiuzhaigou, Chinese for "Nine Villages Valley" with more travertine formations, waterfalls, and colorful lakes. We weren't as fortunate with the weather, although it didn't rain enough to keep us and thousands of Chinese tourists off the trails. But it was a long march getting there, including a 3-and-a-half hour traffic jam before we got to our hotel. Early mornings, long hikes, and late nights -- we don't think we can take much more of Chinese touring, and all the travel books suggest foreigners avoid Chinese holidays, but we joined the crowds for the same reason many Chinese do, it was the only time that we could get away from work.
Finally a chance to relax on Friday afternoon after the tour delivered us back to Chengdu. We wandered around a temple and garden at our own leisurely pace, then found a great Tibetan restaurant and had the best meal of our trip. Saturday was our first chance to sleep in, before flying back to our home province of Guangxi and catching the bus back to Qinzhou, where we put away the warm clothes and tour books, and are back to preparing lessons in the tropical south.