KennedysOnline

Archive for November, 2006

Handel’s Messiah – in China?

YES! Despite the original location being cancelled just three days before the event, Handel’s Messiah was performed last night at a local university’s auditorium. Although Sara and I arrived with some of our Chinese friends in plenty of time the place was already PACKED. The venue sat 800, but easily another 300 were jammed in with another mob outside trying to get in (including us).Perhaps the perfect metaphor for the desire people here have to hear the Truth. May this time of year bring questions. And may you and I be ready with The Answer.

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1) Standing room only on the inside, 2) same story on the outside – what a great problem to have!

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Myself, Sara and local friends.

–Dan

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Traditional Thanksgiving… ribs?

So things are a bit different here. This being the theme of our lives for the past several months (and real turkeys being quite expensive here) we decided to make Chinese ribs the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving feast (also a different experience – very juicy, with almost no bone). Along with some creative renditions of traditional mashed potatoes and green bean casserole, the meal was excellent.

The more profound difference was not being with family. We missed them (you). But, as always, He provided. We had the privilege to host 11 of our friends from around China. It was amazing to share this time with others who moved here at the same time who are doing similar work. The highlight for me was the annual company flag football game on Friday morning. Male bonding at its finest. The soreness in every inch of my body is just beginning to subside…

We spent a lot of time Thinking about all our friends and family back home. We truly are so thankful for each one of you. No blog entry could ever accurately describe our gratitude.
Bring on the pictures…

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Isn’t Sara clever and wise? She and the kids made this “Thankfulness Tree” for our living room.

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What’s wrong with these pictures? Apparently the 8 kids ‘out-voted’ the 9 adults who were delegated to sitting on the floor. I smell a recount.


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Special friends: 1) Aunt Rachel & Hannah, 2) Little Rachel & Noah, 3) part of ‘the gang’ and 4) Daddy & Noah.

— Dan

Side note: One of the great things about being here is what is not here. Letmeexplain. The Friday after Thanksgiving was just the Friday after Thanksgiving. No After Thanksgiving Blow-Out Sales. No Santa Clauses patrolling the mall. For the first time I can remember we are really being forced to give a good, simple answer to “What is this Christmas all about?”.

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We are thankful for… YOU!

Hi everybody,

We really, really, really are so thankful for each of our friends and family members. We are constantly thanking our Father for you.

We are going to go ‘dark’ on our blog for the next week as we have 11 friends coming from across China for Thanksgiving! More on that craziness soon.

With great appreciation,

The Kennedys

This picture is of Sara’s first bike ride in China! She did great (read = she lived).The picture is blurry and offset because she is going so fast…
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Culture 101

Wednesday evening, our team was treated to an evening of Culture 101 – a discussion of some of the many ways our western culture interacts with Chinese culture in flattering and in many cases, less flattering ways. Though we instinctively feel the dissonance, it was helpful to have these articulated by a Chinese friend who has worked with westerners in China for the past ten years.

A few examples:

In the West, the individual is supreme. In China, the group. The needs of the group always preempt the needs or desires of the individual. To sacrifice oneself for the needs of the group is not heroic but expected. Parents do this for children, children for their parents, extended family and even classmates from decades ago can be part of this in-group.

Due to the mutual reliance on the in-group, moving to another city for work becomes nearly impossible. Chinese rely heavily on ‘guangxi’, the relationships you have or can cultivate in order to gain some advantage. With such a large population facing limited resources (environmental, but also space, jobs, houses, spouses), guangxi is a fact of life. Many recent college graduates we’ve met have been turned down for jobs they are clearly qualified for due to another applicants superior connections.
Within the in-group, trust is built. Confidence that resources will be shared equitably is high. However, unlike in the west, those outside the group are eyed with a high degree of suspicion. Our speaker shared that she perceives westerners trust everyone at first, then as we get to know them, may lose confidence. Chinese begin not trusting anyone (except the in-group), then gradually build trust over time. Once trust is gained, the relationship lasts a lifetime – the person joins the group.

Traditional Chinese homes reflect this – with high walls facing to the outside, while inside the walls, several families share a courtyard, open doors and windows, gardens, resources.

Even the way we address our mail demonstrates the supremacy of the group over the individual – in China, the address is listed:

Country/City/District/Street/Unit/Name, which is the reverse of the way we address mail in the US.

Names, too are reversed – the family name always precedes the given name. Acquaintances may go a lifetime never knowing some one’s given name. Being part of a community is not only necessary for survival, but the expected course of one’s life. Our practice of extreme individualism as Americans is baffling to our friends here.

Another key difference is our understanding of love. For most westerners, we easily accept some notion of unconditional love – perhaps in the parent/child relationship, marriage or in a spiritual sense. For most Chinese, relationships, even within the in-group are conditional. Shame and guilt are motivators for appropriate behavior toward parents, tradition dictates responsibilities to children. Guangxi dominates most other relationships – not usually to manipulate, but rather to gain some measure of advantage in a society where scarcity is real and pressing.

For those of our local friends who are Family, learning to accept the notion of unconditional love is challenging and wonderful. We’ve heard the expression “the ones with the bright eyes” used several times by those who came to faith through their experience of unconditional love and acceptance. Bright eyes are not common here. There is too much recent history of suffering and mistrust.

Please remember us as we continue to learn more about our host culture, to celebrate its many contributions and to seek to share the best of ours as well.

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The Neighborhood

A dear friend who is visiting this Christmas shared that she felt a little nervous about coming to a city larger than New York. To ease her concerns, I promised to post some pictures of our very friendly and non-intimidating corner of the world. These pictures were taken yesterday as the girls and I walked to a favorite park a few blocks away.

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1. Back of our apartment building – we are the top left unit 2. Front entrance to our building

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1. Our apartment community’s slogan (sounds good to us!) 2. Apartment Entrance gate, to the left is our ‘recycling center’ 3. Good Friend Store – carries western food items for a small fortune 4. The Pizza Box (carry-out & delivery only) – owned by the same folks who manage the Good Friend Store, the pizzas are delicious, even if the names are a little unusual (Mongolian Horde pizza anyone?)

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1. Outside our gate, taxis and drivers wait 2. Firecrackers being exploded on the sidewalk (firecrackers are part of daily life – celebrating weddings, the openings of new businesses, even funerals or the anniversary of someone’s death) 3. So-called “Stinky Sewer Street” with the usual sludge in the road; this street connects our apartments to the markets beyond, so despite its awful smell, we are here every day, the gentleman on the left corner repairs bikes, shoes and makes keys 4. Our favorite bread street vendor has moved behind this wall during the current police crackdown on street vendors. Now they sell through the windows of the wall.
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1. Tree lined street as we approach the park (OK, the picture has been touched up a little) 2. Local retired men playing Mahjong at the park 3. & 4. Hannah and Mia pose at the park

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Church Tour

DSC01992.JPG This morning I had the opportunity to tour several old churches in our host city. I am left with feelings of great encouragement and deep sadness. Join me on the tour via photos:

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These pictures were taken at one of the larger Catholic churches, administered by the Religious Affairs Bureau under the direction of the State Administration of Religious Affairs (locally known as SARA). They hold three services per weekend, each one bursting with communicants. The building was clearly beautiful, but the interior showed signs of significant disrepair. For various reasons, congregants sometimes have a difficult time funding maintenance projects. The guide who showed us around was gracious and warm. We were delighted to share this morning with her.

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The next church is a Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) Protestant church, also administered by SARA. It resides in one of the oldest continuous houses of worship in China. The woman in the first photo is the church’s Pastor, a soft spoken, gentle woman with a passion for her faith. Our group was honored to hear the story of the triumphs and tragedies this congregation experienced over the last 50 years. They ask us to remember them as they strive to be faithful in the work they are called to.

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“O, how charming! Even a red London telephone booth!” I was thinking as we walked toward this Anglican church in the heart of the British Concession area (brief history: after the last Opium War & the Boxer Rebellion, the European powers were granted certain bits of Chinese territory in what are known here as the Unfair Treaties. The Europeans moved out the locals, destroyed local buildings and built new ones in their own style. Some of these buildings have been preserved, many were destroyed after the end of World War II.).
As we got closer, my heart sank. The building was burned out, charred all the way to the steeple. The gates are padlocked. We learned that this church was one of the buildings used by the Red Guards to burn Bibles during the Cultural Revolution (mid 1960s). It is estimated that one million Bibles were burned in this church.

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I can’t adequately describe to you what it felt like, to be on this bit of earth. It was moving, devastating, heart-breaking. I firmly believe the Church is not buildings & pieces of property, but rather, people of faith from all over the the globe declaring and affirming certain core principles of belief and worship. But today I was reminded that the buildings are significant, too. Witnesses to sacred, set-apart ordinances, quiet moments of pr-yer, celebrations and sorrows.

It is strange that this church remains standing, with well tended grass and a freshly painted white fence. I hope it remains a long time. What a place of reflection for all who pass by!

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Beidaihe – Part II

Its hard to believe we posted Beidaihe Part I almost a month ago! As a quick refresher, we visited the sea town of Beidaihe as part of our company’s fall retreat. Beidaihe is northeast of Tianjin, about 4 hours by bus. The bus ride was interesting. On some interstates, the rest areas are rated like hotels – we had the joy of stopping at a five star (featuring a mix of western and Chinese style toilets, paper, soap and hand dryers) rest area … and some others with lesser ratings.

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Zach and Noah enjoy the bus ride with their ever faithful “sweet blankets”/enjoying old ‘Tom & Jerry’ cartoons on the ride home

We enjoyed the beach, and though the water was cold (not like Lake Michigan cold), the children enjoyed splashing around with their new friends. Our biggest challenge was feeding Daniel, whose shellfish allergy limited him to apples, packaged oatmeal and ramen noodles from the store. At the hotel (the Diplomatic Mission), within about 100 yards of our room, stood a large enclosure for ostriches! They are beautiful birds to be sure – not sure how this hotel became their home.DSC01158.JPGDSC01187.JPGDSC01177.JPGDSC01171.JPG

Sara meets the ostriches/the kiddos test the water/superheroes/Zach flying a kite
We also visited a beautifully restored portion of the Great Wall near Shanghaiguan, where the Great Wall begins in the Sea. What an awesome place! Further west, we were able to take cable cars to the top of Mt. Jioshan (Old Dragon’s Head), the first mountain peak along the Wall. Near the top stands an ancient (recently restored) Buddhist monastery. The views were breathtaking, even on this overcast day. Many portions of the wall in this location have not yet been restored, and appeared to be more like a gravel road than the top of the Great Wall of China.

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From Shanghaiguan: special tipping ride for tourists/the children ready to defend ancient China/painting of the whole area/we pose in front of the beginning of the Great Wall
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From Mt. Jioshan: we await our cable car/daddy & Mia in route (something about holding a squirming three year old while suspended above a deep gorge helps one forget their fear of heights)/Sweet Hannah/altar in the Buddhist temple/Zach & Noah with their teachers – what a special time for them/view from the summit

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Nanna

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My grandmother (Nanna) is very sick. She broke her hip last week after multiple falls. While prepping for surgery, the doctors discovered cancer in her lungs and esophagus, and assume it originated elsewhere. She is 93, a survivor of skin cancer, heart failure, diabetes and near blindness. She has outlived her husband, one daughter and multiple friends. She hates the idea of recovery and rehab in a nursing home. She wants to go home to her cosy apartment at my parent’s home, play with the new dog, listen to her bird clock chime the hour, drink coffee and rest in her own bed.

Nanna is a remarkable woman. She was born in 1913, raised in the deep South, with genteel manners and traditions. As a young woman, she grew fascinated with gypsy life and lore, and even wrote the short story Bewilderment about the adventures of a similarly situated young woman who comes of age while traveling with gypsies. She met her much beloved husband (affectionately renamed Milano) through this shared interest.

Her three children gave her eight grandchildren, who have given her eleven great grandchildren, at least so far.

Year after year, as Nanna’s health deteriorated, we wondered what might happen to her mind, her personality. For as long as I can remember, she’s been the sharpest grandmother around. Witty, charming, quick with a snappy retort, Nanna could even hold her own with the snappish teenagers we tended to be.

And now I am here in China, while my family in Virginia walks this journey without me. Surely this is part of the ‘follow Me’ invitation. And yet, the world is such a small place. I could be there in 24 hours if needed. We are thinking through our options now … should I return home for some period of time? If so, when? How will we finance it? Will it be an emotional setback for Hannah, who is just beginning to feel settled? What about Daniel’s leave from work? Ah … so many things to consider. Would you please think of us as we seek the best plan for our family? Would you please remember Nanna as she faces mandatory rehabilitation before returning home?

Whatever happens, whether soon or in fifteen years, I know Nanna has a perfectly healthy body to match that witty, sharp mind waiting in Glory. What a joy that will be.

Thanks for listening,
Sara

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