Here is a good old-fashioned and super-long "What I did over winter vacation" blog post.
This month I had the pleasure of helping to lead a group of 28 Taylor freshmen on a whirlwind trip across China. Designed by Dr. Rachel Smith, the trip was part of an Honors course about Arts and Ideas in China. Dr. Smith and other leaders designed the experience; my role was to communicate with students and parents both prior to and during our travel, and to help take care of the students while we were in China (or at least to oversee the excellent work of my two graduate assistants as they dealt with the nitty-gritty of student care). A few days into the trip, Jack flew in and joined the group, leaving our kids in the sweet and excellent care of their Georgia family (yes, they were spoiled, but they also learned to clean like ninjas).
So what did we do in China? It was a non-stop trip, up and out the door most mornings by 7:30, and not back at the hotel until 9 pm, so I won't even try to tell you everything, and I won't try to interpret or go into the emotions it all brought up for me, being back in Asia. But here are some of the highlights.
We went to church twice in China, and I basically wept through both services. We also met with Christians in every city we visited, and hearing their stories challenged and encouraged me. This is particularly true of two Christians we met in Beijing who have a house church and are praying about how to develop Christian education materials for the next generation of believers in China.
We went to the Great Wall on a beautiful, clear day. And we rode toboggans down. Eeek! It was so fun.
We went outside of the city a bit to Songzhuang, where we met artist Zhu Jiuyang. While we made many of the typical tourist stops in Beijing (Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, etc), hearing lectures from Chinese artists were some of the most meaningful parts of our trip. We also got to hear from designer Song Tao and painter He Chunye.
That night, Jack joined us, and the next day, we took the bullet train to Xian. The train was super comfortable and traveled at about 200 miles per hour. Unfortunately, the smog was so bad that day that we could hardly see a thing as we moved through the country.
The air pollution. I guess I knew it was there, but I didn't know what it would be like. Sometimes my eyes burned. Sometimes I had a little cough. Sometimes I blew my nose and everything that came out was black (TMI, I know). But what bothered me most was the visibility. Physically, I could handle the smog, but psychologically? I just don't know if I could take it.
The other thing that surprised me in Beijing was what population density felt like. I guess I had expected it to look like Manhattan mid-day, sidewalks crowded with people. But the city streets didn't feel crowded. What population density in China looked like was row after row of identical high-rise apartment buildings, going on for miles and miles in every direction.
An ancient capital of China, Xian is a lovely, traditional city of 5 million people with a bustling Muslim quarter. The terra cotta warriors, Xian's most famous tourist attraction, are clay soldiers made by China's first emperor to guard his tomb. He believed his reign would last after death and the soldiers would protect his power forever. I have a lot of thoughts about this for another day.
We also walked along the top of the Xian city wall, where preparations were being made for the lunar New Year celebration. We saw workers hand-sewing these gorgeous displays.
Highlights of Nanjing included seeing one of the houses where Hudson and Maria Taylor lived (on the trip, I finished reading this excellent biography of him. I like this guy because he had such high esteem for Chinese culture, Chinese people, and women - none of which were particularly common in his day.). We also met with some Christians in Nanjing who began following Jesus when they started researching the faith so that they could convert their foreign English teacher to atheism. Their stories made me cry.
In Nanjing, we also went to the Sun Yat Sen mausoleum on Purple Mountain.
And, on a totally different note, the Nanjing Massacre Museum. I've now been to Dachau concentration camp in Germany, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, and the Nanjing Massacre Museum, and so I think I can say this: Humans are kind of the worst.
On the bus ride from Nanjing to Shanghai, we stopped at Amity Bible Press. This is the largest Bible printing press in the world, printing 15 million Bibles annually.
Our time in Shanghai was a bit more relaxed. We visited Jing-an temple (while in China, we were able to visit Christian churches as well as Buddhist, Muslim, Daoist, and Confucian temples).
We walked through the French Concession (and ate some mouth-watering French pastries) and strolled along the Bund. You should probably go to Shanghai sometime.
Oh my goodness, I didn't even say anything about the food! The food was amazing. Except for that time we went to KFC, I didn't miss my own kitchen one bit.
This post brought to you by the jet-lag that still, ten days later, has me falling asleep on the sofa at 8:30 and waking up before 5. Cheers!