Where God leads I will follow, what He puts in front of me I will swallow
Crossed border and arrived in Guangzhou (Canton) about 3:15 p.m. No problem getting through customs—no questions except about some Christian training materials printed in Arabic that we were bringing for friends in Urumqi.
Incredible amount of traffic, noise, fumes and seeminly utter confusion everywhere we looked here in Guangzhou. Fun though to be able to walk about anywhere we wanted. Wanted to take photos of everything. People at home wouldn’t believe the scenes here. Activity everywhere. Bought cream puffs from street bakery...first food for the day.
Passed street vendors selling neatly arranged row of freshly decapitated monkey heads and small wicker baskets containing live puppies and kittens—great snack food. Numerous children beggars clutching onto our clothing as we walked down crowded streets and alleys; many lame beggars as well. Stopped for dinner after dark in alley restaurant. I was fearful, but roast duck was very meaty and rice was good. Normal fare of eel, snake, octopus also available.
Stares, Bike Wreck, and Kabobs out of the Space Ship
Lanzhou is a medium size city in the heart of Gansu Province located in north-central China just south of Inner Mongolia and surrounded by barren mountains. City is 30 miles long and about 3 miles wide. Main area of city is bisected by the Yellow River, one of three major rivers in China. Huge contrast between Lanzhou and Guangzhou. No hustle and bustle here as found in much more modernized, commercialized Gaungzhou.
Took local bus with people crammed in very tightly for a few miles. Got off and walked across bridge over Yellow River. People of Lanzhou proud of this bridge because it was the first bridge ever built over the Yellow River in China—1908. Walked to a nearby mosque with a surrounding outdoor market and food vendors located on a dusty, dirt roadway. Found many Hui Muslims here. They seemed pretty amazed by our presence. We created quite a stir including one bicycle accident as people stared at us. Took many photos, recorded street noises.
Ate dinner on side of dirt street sitting on narrow bench in front of charcoal brazier over which a Hui man cooked lamb shish-kabobs. Kabobs made from strips of freshly butchered lamb meat and fat which was laying out in the open exposed to flies. Ground red pepper powder was sprinkled on kabobs as cooked over fire. We ordered about 20 kabobs to share. As we discarded sizzling chunks of fat onto the dirt street, small 3-4 year old, filthy children came along to scrape them up out of the dirt, sprinkle a mixture of street dirt and excess pepper powder onto them and pop them into their mouths with a smile of delight on their faces. Pretty tough to see this. Kabobs tasted great, perhaps because I was pretty hungry after having had very little food for the last 24 hours or so. Surprised me because I can’t stand the taste of lamb...but this tasted more like beef with little of the characteristic lamb taste or smell.
All the people in this area live very simply in rows of disheveled huts with narrow stomped down dirt alleys bisecting the rows. Absolute filth and squallor everywhere, though people seemed happy and responded in friendly manner to our gestures and requests to take photos. Had the feeling that I had been dropped out of a space ship into a different world of completely new sights, sounds and smells. Couldn’t believe that we were wandering around these back alleys with no apprehension.
Qing Shen Eating Store: Shoplifters Beware
Woke up at 7:15 a.m. after sleeping pretty soundly—thanks to earplugs! Planned on eating breakfast at the hotel restaurant but was closed. Took bus to large outdoor market where we hoped to see many Huis. Turned out not to be a Hui market so wandered down the main road and ate “breakfast” today at the Qing Shen Eating Store in the Westlake section of Lanzhou. This restaurant was similar to the noodle shop we ate at last night though much cleaner looking. Still difficult for me to eat here in the midst of such strange culinary delights.
Restaurant run by a Hui family. Main fare seemed to be either cold or hot noodle soup mixture, though they also offered us another house specialty of chicken claws which others there were eating with great relish. Four or five young men were busy in the kitchen area cooking over three very hot coal fire pits. Cooked meat by stir frying in large wok. Noodles were cooked in large pots along with diced up greens, onions and vegetables. Red pepper powder added to everything didn’t taste particularly hot, but made our sinuses run.
Right next to our table was a large basket on the floor crammed full of dressed chickens covered by a damp, dirty rag. Heads and claws protruded at all angles from the basket. Quite appetizing as I found myself eating most of a bowl of noodles, again with chopsticks.
The people here were very friendly and animated—excited to serve us. Took many pictures and tape recorded sounds. Woman serving food even uncovered basket of chickens and proudly directed me to take a picture of them. We spent about 45 minutes there before leaving to walk off our meal. Took notice of sign on wall proclaiming “Shoplifters Beware” just above hanging carcass of dog,
Linxia: Walking through the pages of National Geographic
Woke up at 6:15 a.m. after good sleep. Layed in bed praying for Nancy, David and Andy and their activities at home on a Monday afternoon: Andy at baseball practice, Nancy meeting with her cub scouts, David maybe playing with Brad...it all seemed so unreal to even consider their world in the midst of what I am experiencing. Had the feeling yesterday coming to Linxia that I was walking through the pages of National Geographic.
Breakfasted on dried bread and warm beer. Hit the streets at first light. Wandering around dirt streets and alleyways we saw several mosques but little activity until shortly after 8:00 a.m. when the streets suddenly began to come alive with people bicycling about, walking to work, opening street side shops, etc. Saw several men leading small herds of sheep through town. Also many men leading donkeys wearing bells on their reigns pulling carts laden with fresh vegetables toward a buzzing street market nearby. Narrow alleys bordered on both sides by unadorned brown walls made of mud and straw mixture. Occasional gateways through these walls led to small courtyards and adobe type houses. Many women wore green or black lace head coverings as they walked about the streets in the soft, diffused morning light.
Each mosque we visited here housed students in an attached dormitory. Most were very friendly often crowding around to accomodate our many questions. Spent quite a bit of time at the Gansu Linxia Shi Shui Qing Zhen Mosque where about 25 students swarmed out of their dormitory to see us. Students here came mostly from Xinjiang Province in northwest China, though some were local as well. One man said he was from Urumqi, where we are to travel by train later this evening. Most were in their early twenties. Their training consists of 5-6 years of study before being sent to a mosque somewhere in China to assist the Imam (head teacher of mosque) and eventually teach themselves. Many of these men began their studies when 15 or 16 years old. Some students had left wives behind at home. The student leader who answered most of our questions said he had five brothers at home. (China’s policy of one child per family has not been applied to minority people, though there is much talk that this may soon change). Student leader told us that all of the mosques in Linxia were only about 10 years old. When we asked him if there had been much persecution of Muslims during the cultural revolution, he replied that he didn’t know because he was too young. At another mosque we visited this morning, we were invited to climb a tower and were able to take several photos overlooking the hazy city below.
Can’t beat the efficiency of working for a communist government!
I went back over the the China Travel Service office to pick-up our train tickets. A bit apprehensive about this since they barely spoke English and I had no idea how to read tickets, etc. Found the office door locked. After continuing to knock for a few minutes the door was opened by sleepy looking man. Two women in office just waking up from afternoon siesta they had taken on portable cots set up in small office. Can’t beat the efficiency of working for a communist government! Got train tickets O.K. but turns out train takes about 12 hours longer than had initially been told. Also had been given tickets in two different sleeping compartments. Very difficult to deal with these people who could care less about such details. They seem to enjoy creating problems for travellers more so than serving them. This is typical of Chinese put in positions of authority. I don’t deal well with this and their never ending lies. Got worked up inside, maybe because I’m getting tired from hunger and anxiety about soon spending 48 hours on a Chinese train with little food and so many unknowns. Going to try and have quiet time to calm down before leaving soon for the train station.
Read Acts 16:6-12. Perhaps as in this passage, the Holy Spirit has forbidden us to travel by plane to Urumqi. Maybe God has a reason for the long train ride ahead. Passage meaningful in that Paul relied fully on the Lord for guidance as he ventured into unknown land and depended on information and directions from a people foreign to him probably speaking unknown languages. Shared these thoughts at dinner in hotel restaurant though no one seemed very interested.
Fear… Confession… Obessiveness
Realized today that I don’t think I could ever become acculturated here. The food is awful; I’m afraid to eat more after taking the first bite. Have to concentrate to keep from vomiting at the so called restaurants we've been eating at. Also, becoming obsessive about the lack of cleanliness. Constantly desire to wash my hands. Don’t like wearing same smelly clothes day after day in which so many people have come in contact. Hotel linens rarely changed. Feel a bit guilty about all of this. These things that bother me so, don't seem to be of any concern to others...makes me feel like a wimp. I had pledged to live like a missionary on this trip. Seems beyond my abilities now that I’m here deep in the heart of China.
I have to confess that I’m tired of seeing, smelling and hearing Chinese people. Prayed about this confessing this weakness. Confused about Jesus’ call to “Go therefore...” Was thinking yesterday of how before taking this trip I had been caught up in the “adventurous” aspect of it with little thought to what hardships would be encountered. I’m afraid that I’ve been pushed way past my comfort zone on many occasions in the last few days. Yet it has been exciting to see how God has answered our prayers for guidance and protected us from any harm. Another thought had to do with “glamorous” destinations. Every place we go to I find myself expecting to find a glamorous and exciting, visually stimulating scene. In actuality, all Chinese towns are dingy and dirty and run down.
48 Hours Through the Desert to Urumqi
Wonder now what Urumqi will be like. Between here and there we are to spend 48 hours crossiung a great desert expanse of over 1,500 miles in a steam engine driven train, no doubt made in the famous locomotive works located in Datong, China, a few hundred miles due east of here.
Chris joined us for our humble dinner at 7:30 p.m. Had another chunk of dried out bread, a few Chinese sawdust cookies, 1 cup of warm beer, 1 cup of warm Pepsi, and 1 cup of hot water. Took aspirin and antibiotics tonight. Have had headache, sore throat and stopped up nose all day.
Landscape remains unchanged though mountains in distance seem a bit higher. This is a huge desert we are passing through. Chinese call it Takliamakan: once you get in you’ll never get out. Said to take 40+ days to cross this desert by camel. Train continuing through desert now bounded by 12,000 -13,000 foot snow-covered Quilian Mountains. No signs of civilization here with the exception of what appear to be 1,000 year old ruins of previous adobe dwellings.
Got into quite a discussion with Chris after dinner. I began to ask him what he was taking away from his travels. Had no real answer other than he had seen so many people with so many problems everywhere he had been. It was then that he mentioned he had given some thought to attending seminary. Sounded a bit peculiar as he communicated this with rather salty language. I then shared my faith with him telling him of how I had entered into a personal relationship with God by accepting His Son, Jesus Christ, into my life while a junior at Indiana University, 19 years ago. We had quite a talk as Chris very openly and honestly shared his struggles with the concept of “original sin.” Prayed tonight that Chris would come to see Jesus as the source of peace that I sense he is searching for.
Long time of prayer as fell asleep—rock and roll sleep as train made several stops with lots of bumps in between. Up at 7:00 a.m. Cool out in passageway, but warm in our sleeper compartment. Very sore throat and ringing in my ears.
Heads Roll in Urumqi
As we walked around Urumqi today there was some fear that we would be stopped and questioned about why we were taking photographs. Just a few weeks ago several journalists had been here interviewing people for a story which appeared in Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal about supposed unrest and rioting amongst the Uygurs. Rioting Uygurs were said to have beheaded two diplomats sent from Beijing to quell their violence.
According to the people we met in Urumqi, little of the reported violence had acutally taken place; especially not the church burning by Muslims and their reported persecution of fellow Muslims that had converted. These journalists were kicked out of the country. At any rate, I began leaving all of my exposed film at Steve’s just in case my equipment is confiscated. Hope to have no problems traveling as tourists, however.
“Travel” and “Bucket” the Uzbecks
Terry and I wandered around Uygur areas for over five hours. Took many good photos and saw a number of fascinating sights in the back alleys, bazaars and markets we toured. Just after meeting, I joined Terry as he had breakfast at a Uzbeck restaurant run by a couple in their mid-thirties. Well run place with nicely prepared food. Had I been hungry, I could have eaten here with few concerns. Uzbecks are another Muslim minority people, though much rarer than the Uygurs in this area. Terry mentioned that most Uzbecks, like Uygyrs, are Muslim in culture only and do not really practice Islam. Most Uzbecks in Urumqi have migrated south a few hundred miles from Uzbeckistan in the Soviet Union where much rioting has recently taken place in their bid for freedom.
The Uzbeck couple running this restaurant were very handsome with Indo-European features and light skin. Woman was quite attractive and dressed as she was in a western styled navy suit could easily have passed for a tanned American. Though the husband welcomed our taking photos, the woman would have nothing to do with the idea. Her name translated into English was “Travel” or “Journey.” According to Terry, it is an Uzbeck custom for a woman to name her child after the first thing she sees or thinks about after giving birth. Terry knows of one Uzbeck man named “Bucket.”
The woman in the restaurant told Terry that there are only 130 pure Uzbeck families in Xinjiang Province. Terry feels this is a bit low but far more accurate than the 250,000 Uzbecks reported to be living here by western media and in Christian newsletters.
Hellish Aches at Heavenly Lake
Up early and out for bus ride to center of Urumqi in order to catch mini-bus to Heavenly Lake in the Tian Shan mountains which tower over the city. Beautiful, bright sunny sky with fluffy white clouds—portends great trip to the mountains. Took photos of very colorfully dressed group of Kazak kids while waiting for our bus to depart.
Three hour bus ride to Heavenly Lake. Bus stopped for 1/2 hour rest in small village just before we began climbing into the mountains. As we snacked on some Chinese chocolates, we saw a man riding a horse and leading a camel piled high with baggage ride down the dusty dirt road we had been driving on. Arrived at the lake about noon.
Absolutely spectacular scene. Beautiful emerald green lake at the foot of Bogda Feng Mountain. Lake surrounded by verdent green slopes of grazing grass reaching up to the brilliant white snow of glaciers. Very little evidence of human habitation. After having travelled for almost two weeks in dusty, sooty, crammed Chinese cities, this view was breathtaking. Had the thought, “Now this is more like it!”
Couldn’t have had better weather—what a blessing as we visited this truly Heavenly Lake. Temperature is about 50 degrees with a gentle refreshing breeze. The contrast to where we have been is incredible. Hard to believe that we are still in China...except for the food.
After a quick lunch of warm noodles, vegetables and mutton we “checked-into” our yurt for the night ($3 each). A yurt is a tent/tepee like structure approximately 12' in diameter and constructed of thin aspen poles covered by heavy goat and sheep skins. These yurts are cylindrical with a cone shaped roof rising to a narrow opening which vents a small coal-fired stove used inside to cook upon and provide heat. Kazaks in this area, who are primarily nomadic shepherds, prefer these structures because they can be moved up to the mountains in the summer when they herd sheep and then back down to the valleys for winter.
Hired two Kazak guides, a father (mid-thirties) and his teenage son and three horses to ride up into the mountains above the treeline to glaciers. For $10 each, they promised to get us there and back again in only seven hours. As I mounted my horse somewhat clumsily since I took my 35 lb. camera bag with me, the thought crossed my mind of how tired and sore I had been the last time I rode a horse—for 45 minutes.
Our ride up into the mountains was one of the greatest outdoor experiences of my life. Riding up higher and higher through heavily forested slopes of fir trees we eventually crossed a small snow-covered stream. This was fun for one member of our party who had never seen snow before. It was really funny as we watched her make her way on foot across the sloping, slippery snow to the other side.
Had another funny experience as we continued climbing up a canyon towards treeline. Not long after having crossed a particularly beautiful roaring stream, from which we all had taken a drink by laying prostate upon the rocks, the horse ridden by one of our members suddenly decided to go no further. Turned in a circle and then simply stepped a few feet off the trail and proceeded to lie down in the grass. Our guides burst into laughter saying they had never seen this happen before. Poor horse absolutely refused to budge until the guides suggested that our friend get off and walk away. Guides concluded that at 6''7" he was just too heavy for the horse to carry any further. After swapping horses around, we continued uphill for another hour or so before reaching treeline and the lower reaches of the glaciers we had seen from our yurt miles below where we now stood.
This scenery in the land of the Kazaks is truly awesome. Leaving the horses behind, the younger guide led us another 1/2 mile or so higher up the mountain where the view became even more spectacular. Sat around and rested in the grass for awhile before walking back to the horses. Upon getting back up on my horse several sore muscle groups began letting my brain know of what was to come. Ride home was just as beautiful as had been on the way up the mountain. With the sun nearing the horizon, the lake took on a still, quiet glow as we approached it and then wound around back toward the area where our yurt stood. Arrived back about 8:00 p.m.
My worst fears were more than founded. As I sit now writing these notes after our return, every muscle in my body is aching. I was so sore riding back that I didn't think I could actually hold on for the last mile or two. I had allowed my horse to fall behind as I rode more slowly to ease the pain I felt with the horse’s every step. About this time, the younger guide decided to jump up on the back of my horse riding bareback behind me (remember these people are known for their horsemanship) in order to help me catch up with the others. He was a fun loving, big kid. Several times during the day he had reached over and taken my sunglasses off and then worn them for a few miles. With him now riding behind me, he soon took the reigns and dug in his heels as our horse began to gallop. Before I could even think, I found myself repsonding with an involuntary burst of aggression yanking the reigns back out of his hands and slowing the horse to a walk. Thinking this was a game, he then reached up, took the reigns and off we went again in a gallop. This was definitely another one of those situations where to know a little language would have helped immensely. I soon realized that in the midst of my pain, bouncing along and holding on for dear life, that I was yelling at him in English knowing full well that he didn’t understand a word of what this crazy foreigner was saying. Next time I got the reigns back I motioned for him to dismount and then went about my ambling way falling even further behind the others.
I finally made it back, but couldn’t get off the horse without help. Then I couldn’t stand on my feet. Father and son sat me down in the grass propped up against a boulder where I remain an hour later, still not too sure about walking around.
Lunch in a Yurt and my Cultural Blunder
Quite warm on shore close to our yurt where I was just awakened from a short nap in the sun by several young Kazak children playing outside a yurt close by. I grabbed my camera bag and off we went. Began photographing these children and their very friendly mother who soon stepped outside to invite us in to see her yurt and share some food with us. Her colorful dress and sweater blended nicely with the beautiful embroidery covering everything inside her yurt. She served us boiling hot tea mixed with fresh goat milk and a wonderful loaf of homemade bread. We all ate away with no guarantees as to our health.
This was an amazing cross-cultural experience to find ourselves sitting in this woman’s home so very different than ours, yet containing the same necessities. And, her home, unlike ours, had what must be one of the greatest views on the face of the earth—no exaggeration!
This yurt was filled with beautiful woven carpets covering the entire floor. Many exquisite hand-embroidered mats covered the walls—similar to those I bought at the pink department store in Urumqi. Much of one wall was covered by neatly folded piles of bright red quilts. Just inside the doorway, which was nothing more than a piece of goat skin covering an opening, was a small raised wooden platform which served as a bed for husband and wife. Her four children slept on the floor. The center of the floor held a small coal burning pot belly stove upon which she was boiling water; provided plenty of warmth, too. Just inside the doorway on the right was a compact kitchen area set off by a few small curtains and a low, narrow table. Two large buckets below this table contained water which had been boiled in two heavy metal tea kettles. One small shelf in the kitchen area held a few bowls and dishes and cups...all of their tableware for a family of six. A large wooden cutting board was placed on the carpet near the kitchen area to prepare food upon. The woman used a heavy cleaver to chop up the bread she served us and some green onions she was preparing for later. Under a metal bowl placed on the cutting board was another lump of bread dough ready to be baked. Though compact, her yurt was very homey and quite comfortable.
I could hardly believe we were actually sitting with this family in this yurt so far removed from anything I had ever experienced. Realized that I was sharing the place where this woman had no doubt given birth to the four young children now wandering about picking bugs out of each other's heads. The place where she had had her good times and her bad times. The very place of her existence. When I gave her a photo of my family she seemed touched and then handed it back to me after showing it to her children. When I suggested that she keep it, she immediately got up and placed it on her kitchen shelf close to a few other momentos she seemed to cherish.
She didn’t seem to mind when I took photos inside the yurt. We asked her for her address so we could send copies to her. When asked if I could take her picture, she said most Kazak women are very shy but it would be O.K. She then removed her heavy purple sweater to reveal a lighter green colored sweater underneath. Took a few minutes to straighten her hair and leggings and then gave me permission to commence. Only took two photos before it was obvious that she had had enough of this special attention.
As we said goodbye and left, I reached out and shook her hand. This seemed to surprise her. Walking back towards our yurt, I was reminded that a man is never to touch a Muslim woman unless he is asking to marry her. Hope I didn’t upset her or cause her any reason to get into trouble. Big cultural blunder.
When in Rome… and Real Food
Made arrangements for three hour taxi ride across the border to the New Territories where we will take the local train the rest of the way into the Shatin area of Hong Kong. Traffic came to a complete standstill two hours into our ride. Had time to do as the Chinese do and urinate on the side of the road in broad daylight with hundreds of people about. No one seemed to notice. Accident ahead of us was cleaned up and we resumed our way to the border crossing. No problems. Felt very relieved to get all of film out of China safely.
Rode train to Shatin and then took taxi to Doug’s home where we will spend the night. Arrived about 7:30 p.m. and immediately took quick shower and then took taxi to nearest Pizza Hut...what a welcome change after two weeks of Chinese food. I ate much of the two large pizzas and pitcher of Pepsi we ordered. Seeing my excitement at eating this “real” food, friends warned that I might become pentacostal at any moment. My first step towards gaining back a few of the 20 pounds that I have lost.
Slowly waddled through streets lined with various vendors selling all that Hong Kong is famous for...naked women included. Finally, took taxi back to Shatin for the night. Wrote twenty-one postcards to friends and family until 1:30 a.m. Then layed down on the floor and slept soundly for the night.
Few Overweight People in China
People we’ve seen walking, bicycling and working are of slender build with no excess body fat. Nor have we seen any evidence of large muscular development. Han Chinese women have large bony forearms with protruding wrist bones, small breasts, average hips, thin legs and straight black hair. Men all seem rather gaunt with slightly concave cheeks. Many men grow the nails of their little fingers very long. This is some kind of statement on their part that they don't work very hard. Long nails prove it. Children are a bit plumper than adults. Most people have straight teeth though many have a notch in the bottom of each top front tooth. Many peoples' teeth have yellowish brown stains, while others are quite white.
No Animals in Sight
Since entering China have seen no animals in the wild. Have not seen a single bird, squirrel, dog, cat or even a rat which you’d expect to be roaming everywhere. I’m convinced that all wild animals have been totally exterminated and served up for dinner.
Safety in China
We have wandered wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted with no concern for our well being. Have never felt any reason to be afraid. I've often marvelled at this realizing that the value of my camera bag alone must be equal to many years of these peoples’ income. Have been no attempts to pick-pocket us eventhough we have been warned along these lines. Have seen very few policemen and practically no military presence.
Have seen many children 2-3 years old, but no infants. Children never seem to cry. No such thing as diapers. Young children are dressed in pants with slitted bottoms. Not uncommon to see them relieving themselves anywhere. Saw one young boy sitting on his grandmothers lap on a bus proceed to wet all over her. Didn’t seem to faze anyone, grandmother included.
Everywhere we go, everyone is spitting on every street, sidewalk, bus floor, even in church. This habit is beginning to wear on me. Just the sound of someone clearing his throat in preparation to spit is more than I can take. Absolutely gross...must constantly step over and around sputum when walking. To watch someone spit is even worse. Don’t seem to be able to propel sputum; instead just dribbles over the bottom lip and falls to the gound in one long, thick drip. It’s no wonder Asians remove their shoes when entering a home. I remember seeing signs in Hong Kong and in a few places in Guangzhou instructing people not to spit. Part of the problem is the amount of windblown sand and dust in the air. As it mixes with the ever present acrid coal dust it seems to accumulate at the back of one’s throat. Maybe it’s best to spit it out? Who knows? Disgusting nevertheless.
Have seen almost no display of affection between men and women. Certainly nothing more than hand holding, and that only rarely. Interaction between the sexes seems to be nonexistent in public. With the lack of privacy all over China, one wonders how in the world intimacy ever takes place...must be done as everything else is done without a care for who’s watching what.
Interesting too, that men seem to pay no attention whatsoever to well-dressed, attractive women on the street. Same holds for girls paying no attention to boys; no giggling, finger pointing, teasing. It’s beyond me what fuels the average Chinese’ sexual appetite—what it takes to stimulate one another. This in light of the fact that close physical contact seems to be a way of life. Obviously hasn't prohibited rather major population growth.
Photography in China
Everywhere we have gone, we have seen photo vendors outside of major attractions displaying 3.5"x5" photos under glass picturing Chinese tourists at that particular place. Have also seen several photo studios in cities. Went into one which had some pretty nice landscape photos on the wall, though composition was poor. Equipment in this studio consisted of one 35 mm camera with a hot shoe mounted flash positioned on a tripod in front of a white painted wall. A second hot light within an umbrella and mounted on a stand stood next to the camera.
Have seen very few Chinese carrying cameras, though the pink department store in Urumqi had a good selection of rangefinder and SLR 35mm cameras for sale. Saw no recognizable brand names other than one Minolta lens and several Seagull cameras which are often advertised as inexpensive student cameras in the States.
Postcards have rather poor photography with pictures having been taken from obsure angles, from behind trees, etc. The postcards available at the Heavenly Lake rarely showed an unobscured view of the pristine setting that was so picturesque. Have seen some nice photography, however, in a few books for sale illustrating various provinces of China.
Most of the film that I’ve seen for sale is of Chinese variety. Have seen some Fuji film and passed one shop in Lanzhou with a Kodak sign out front.
Brand Name Products
Noticed in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Indonesia that several well known American brand names are used here for entirely different products than what we would associate them with. Same logos are used, but with different products. Examples include Marlboro stereo speakers and Spalding talcum powder.
Riding the Bus in China
Map of Lanzhou has bus routes marked in roman numbers. Same numbers adorn front of each bus. Bus stops located every 1/2 mile or so on few main roads running through town.
As a bus one is waiting for approaches the stop, you must run and begin pushing and shoving your way towards either the front or rear door. Once inside it is usually impossible to move. Buses have very few seats (rare toget a seat) so that more people can smash on board. Often time end up standing for long periods of time packed in like sardines in a can. When seems like couldn’t possibly squeeze another human being on, many more people somehow smash their way on board at the next stop. No such thing as “personal space.” Bothers no one as they are smashed in awkard positions sometimes leaning all over one another, even hanging out the windows. Even when a bus is not crowded, people still pack in very closely to one another. Chinese people have distinct oily smell (though they claim we are the ones that smell) that becomes very odious inside a packed bus.
Two women in the front and near the middle of the bus take money and sell tickets. Seems to be an honor system. Riders simply pay sometime during the trip before exiting the bus. Everyone is given a receipt most of which end up on bus floor. Average cost for ride across town is 5¢. We have been able to go wherever we have wanted to by bus. One peculiar habit of all bus drivers is apparently required. Each time a bus stops at a stop, for a traffic light, etc. the driver immediatley shuts off the engine to conserve fuel, though undoubtedly this procedure actually uses more fuel and is hard on the engine.
Facade Covering the Dangerous Boiling Instability in China
Boarded our plane for the flight to Singapore. Flying Business Class is very nice. Big seats and constant attention from very attractive, dark-skinned stewardesses. Read current Asian edition of Newsweek Magazine on “China's Sullen Silence” which was very condemning of the situation in China since the violence in Tiananmen Square exactly one year ago. Reading the graphic account of the ensuing violence towards those who had participated in the democracy movement pulled me up short after having just spent two weeks in China. Any inkling I had of any glamour remaining in China is but a facade shrouding the dangerous boiling unstability brewing beneath the surface of this weakened country. I have no doubt that China is about to erupt with massive political repercussions and potential mass starvation if the centrally-controlled food distribution system falls apart. If nothing happens first, the powder keg will surely ignite when Deng, now 85 and rumored to be in poor health, dies. Wouldn’t be suprised if there were big protests at the time of the Asian Games scheduled in Beijing this September.
What in the World Am I Doing Here?
With forty-five minutes left before leaving Bataam for TK, a remote island in the Riau Archipelgo of Sumatra, I am shaken by the thought of going on with this adventure. I’m angry at myself that I’ve gotten into this situation in the first place. My thoughts wander to how nice it would be sitting in the comfort of my home in Cincinnati or perhaps at the lake house—hard to even think of that other world.
After first landing on the island of Moro, we met the husband and wife who we'll be staying with on TK, a mountainous, heavily forested island a few miles away. They are to take us and a number of children out to TK in their open, diesel powered boat.
The straw that broke the camel named Rick’s back came about while I was climbing down the ladder leading from Moro pier to the small boat we were to take to TK. Suddenly the notebook I have been using to keep this journal fell from my shirt pocket into the ocean below. I can't describe the anguish I felt as I watched, in what seemed like slow motion, all of the thoughts and experiences I had poured out into that notebook float on the surface briefly and then begin to sink. Though a small island boy rescued the notebook just before it sank out of reach, the writing on the 85+ pages had streaked and run to the point where much of it was unreadable. I thought I was going to explode inside all the way to TK. My anger peaked as I considered throwing my entire camera bag off the boat into the ocean. Meanwhile the young boy attempted to unstick and dry out the pages of the journal on the way to TK. On the ride over, the boy who had rescued my journal asked my companion, who understands some Malay, “Why is he so sad?” This of course only made me feel worse as I realized what a cry baby I had been all day. I had it all compared to these people, yet it was they who had unbounded joy and enthusiasm for the new life God had given them. In a final burst of depression and anger, I told my friend that I had made a big mistake coming on this trip. His only reply was that I would cherish these experiences for the rest of my life.
Wading Through Typhoid Goo
Arriving at TK the only visible structures before us were three tin-roofed shacks raised on pillars extended out over the ocean and connected to shore with rope lashed, rough wooden bridges. Each shack measured approximately 30' long by 20' wide and was constructed of rough sawn lumber. No attempt had been made to seal gaps between boards on either the side walls or the floor. In fact, people often used these gaps to throw waste, including human waste, into the ocean below. The entire area around the shacks was covered with litter thrown about everywhere. Doorways and windows were simply holes cut out of the walls. Insects and small animals were free to roam about wherever.
Since the tide was pretty high, we only had to wade the last twenty feet or so to shore. During low tide one must walk through several hundred yards of a typhoid-goo mud to reach a boat. I am very thankful this hadn't been our experience on the way here. It may be, however, on the way back.
Right Handed Rice Eating, Anne Frank, and Iguana Skins
Village women prepared dinner cooking over an open fire on one end of the main hut. As food is prepared it is layed out on a straw mat covering the wooden floor of the main shack. After praying over the food we were about to eat, each person was given a large bowl of white rice and a cup of hot water. Common dishes of 3"-4" long fish, green vegetables resembling leaves and mixed with eggs, Chinese cabbage, oysters in the shell, and very spicy green sauce were passed around to everyone sitting cross-legged on the floor.
Eating this meal together, with everyone eating their food by scooping it up with the fingers of their right hand, was another one of this trip’s other worldly experiences. This was a big cross-cultural leap for me, but I actually enjoyed eating some rice and vegetables with everyone. Eating with one's fingers seems the natural thing to do here, though it is a bit awkward. Dinner lasted over an hour by the end of which I had rice all over me. No one else seemed to have the trouble I did picking up a hand full of rice and vegetables, squeezing it into a ball, and then stuffing it into their mouths. All the kids surrounded me to eat the rice off my sarong.
Experienced yet another ironic cross-cultural moment later that evening as fifteen of us began to lie down for the night to sleep on straw mats layed out on the floor of the shack. Just as we were all getting settled, one of the men walked over and switched on the television set. Very strange lying there watching “The Diary of Anne Frank” broadcast in English, which none of them understood. Suddenly in the middle of a particularly dramatic moment the same man switched off the set.
Went to bed praising God for the opportunity to experience TK; sought forgiveness for my attitude earlier today. Long night sleeping on the floor, even though I wimped out and slept on a thin pad I had brought along. Some bug bites and hot on the floor though temperature cooled off by morning. Awoke to the sound of a baby crying often throughout the night.
We were awoken about 5:30 a.m. just before a cock crowed and the sun rose by one of the men carrying a kerosene lantern and gently singing as he carefully stepped over the many sleeping bodies lying everywhere. I woke up feeling a lot better mentally today, but still desirous of returning to the normalcy of home life. As I looked up from the floor before getting up I couldn’t figure out what was stretched out and hanging just above me. Closer inspection showed this to be several iguana skins pinned to the wall to dry out.
Allah Have Mercy!
Waited about half an hour after our meal for the tide to rise before leaving TK for Moro. Rode islanders motor launch there to take sick girl to doctor. Then said our goodbyes and boarded thirty foot open boat for ride to Kundur Island. Only covering on boat was flimsy China cloth (red, white, and blue nylon material) covering which could be rolled down if needed to protect passengers. As we pulled out into the ocean and made our way between nearby islands, it was obvious that we were headed for quite a storm. Wind picked up, air temperature cooled down, sea became quite choppy with 5'-6' swells. Heavy rain, thunder and lightening suddenly descended on us in torrents.
I had sat in the front of the boat with a Malay couple who had a twelve year old boy and a five year old boy who all became increasingly anxious as the storm beat down upon us tossing our boat about on the waves which regularly crashed over the bow and soaked all of us. Had it not been for the China cloth covering over us, I don’t think we could have survived our ride up front. Though we were soaked over and over again, at least we were protected from the initial shock of each wave crashing over us. I felt very sorry for the mother of the family riding with us. After a while she finally broke down and began crying uncontrollably and screaming, “Ali Akbar, Ali Akbar”—Allah have mercy, Allah have mercy—as our boat driver continued at full throttle pounding his way toward our destination with no regard for the comfort of his passengers. I had no fear and found myself praying that God would reveal his peace to this poor frightened family. Good thing I had brought a waterproof bag for my camera equipment; the rest of our luggage was soaked through.
While sitting on the veranda of this Muslim owned hotel, I was asked by the man sitting next to me where I was from. When I began to read the Bible he asked me what my religion was. I was surprised to hear that he is a Christian and attends the Presbyterian Church when he is in Bataam. He travels here often in his work for an oil company from his home in Jakarta. I played the tape I made last night of Stephanie and her friend singing for him. Seemed to enjoy hearing this and hummed along. When I asked him why he stays in this particular hotel, his reason was that there are no “taxi girls” allowed here. Said there are many prostitutes at the other hotels in Bataam. He didn't like this because he has a wife and family at home.
Prayer and $20,000 of Cameras
Walked in gentle rain through shoulder high grass towards a densely forested jungle with clouds of haze hanging just below treetops. Eventually came upon a few very small wooden shacks floating out of the mist. I sensed that I was walking into a world the likes of which I had never seen before, not even on TV—this wasn’t glamorous enough!
First walked up to the simple one room church building Tin had constructed for the people of Bataam Centre. Rough hewn wooden planks used throughout with poles for supporting beams and covered with a peaked tin roof. Pews inside constructed like benchs with no backs out of the same rough lumber. Took a few photos in the drizzle and then walked to three shacks nearby. Trails are all overgrown with prickly cactus like leaves.
Met friendly woman who Tin explained was a good neighbor to the church and would watch our luggage until we left. Then walked down another trail to meet the wife and children of the man who had sang with Stephanie last night. He was out doing construction work today, for which she was very thankful since he was usually unemployed. I just couldn’t imagine that the handsome, well dressed man with the beautiful voice I had met last night could possibly live in this completely unfurnished shack with a dirt floor. His wife had just given birth two weeks earlier to their seventh child and is still recovering.
Before inviting us inside she quickly swept the dirt floor which was covered in places by scraps of linoleum. She sat with four of her children upon a crude unupholstered wooden couch in one corner and indicated that we should sit on the floor nearby. Two young children peaked their heads out of the bedroom to look at us. She was very friendly and open to our visit. Talked for awhile before Tinjau suggested that I pray for her family’s need. Tinjau is deeply concerned for their seven children and their state of poverty. Found myself at a complete loss for words in the midst of an overwhelming bout of culture shock. Looking down to pray, my eyes glanced over to my camera equipment and tape recorder, probably worth $20,000. In a fleeting thought I realized that the value of these two bags was no doubt more than several year’s earnings for this family. Did my best to pray for her needs, both physical and spiritual. She later thanked me for coming to strengthen her. Thought of Paul’s desire to be a refreshment to those he ministered to.
This family has absolutely no possessions other than a few very simple kitchen utensils and one bed. Chickens and mangy dogs roam everywhere including through the holes in the walls which served as doorways. Flies buzz about as do large numbers of mosquitoes which are probably malaria infected. Yet, the people we have met in this poverty stricken Indonesian village are delightful. Learned a very important lesson here, perhaps for the first time in my life, that it’s what’s inside a person that really counts. It’s easy to see the love of God in this woman and her children just as it had been last night in her husband.
Though enslaved to poverty, these people have respect for themselves and others. All of the women we have seen here dress in their best clean clothes and keep themselves groomed. Houses are kept as clean as could be expected under such circumstances. I’m sure they gather together their families on many days asking God to provide their daily bread.
This has been a most difficult experience for me. Keep wondering how these experiences will effect me when I return home to my life of abundance. Just before leaving her home, this frail woman asked me to keep praying for her family after I returned to my home.
Smile…the Universal Language
Learned yet another simple lesson here today...something I’ve seen several times on this trip. Our smile speaks a universal language. It’s the one thing we can give freely without the constraint of language hindering us from expressing our feelings from the heart. To smile is to give. It is beautifulto then receive back from another person a world apart.
Why Have I Had These Experiences?
Rode a beautiful, super modern boat back to Singapore. Had very mixed feelings on the ride back. Found it very difficult to jump so quickly from the simple lifestyle of these people living in extreme poverty to the obviously well-to-do crowd returning to cosmopolitan Singapore. On the one hand, I am desperate to return to civilization and be renuited with Nancy and the boys. Yet, on the other hand, I realize that I have in during this time in these islands of Indonesia experienced much at the hand of God—much of which I don’t understand as of yet. I feel as though I will have to spend time reflecting on all of these experiences before I can sort them out. Feel as if I’ve been bombarded by cross-cultural experiences, each one more shocking than the previous. Wonder what God has in store for me? Why have I had these experiences?