Friday, February 18, 2011

My City

I left my apartment this morning and walked down to a nearby Starbucks to get some work done. After a couple hours, the place begins to fill up with people and noise and hustle and bustle, the amount of coffee in my cup almost acting as a gauge for the peace of the room. Around lunch time I head over to my grocery store and pick up a few things before I go the Chine Unicom to put more money on my phone. I spend the afternoon at my office/apartment getting more work done (only mildly interrupted by a wonderful company prayer time), and then head out with my Chinese co-workers to dinner. We took my shortcut to the nearby foodcourt and tried out this Indian place I just love. We get done eating just in time for me to head over to dance practice for the play I am in. Thankfully practice is right in my neck of the woods, and I get there in no time. Three jives and a Charleston later I head out to my favorite place to think and watch the ocean reflect the colors of the city lights. As I sit writing this blog, a couple fireworks go off right around me... and I barely notice. Yup, this is my side of the city.

Did you hear it? Did you hear how mant times I said "my"? All of the sudden I have realized that I don't see this as someone else's city anymore. It is my city. "They" don't live here. "We" live here.

At some completely elusive and undefinable point, I stopped living in CHINA and started... just living. I am not amazed anymore. Not really. Its not new. Its not fantastic. HiSense, Jusco, crowds, decorations, all the general Chinese-ness of everything-- its just a part of life. Grabbing a taxi, walking by the ocean, being surrounded by sky-scrapers, ordering meals in Mandarin-- this is just life now. I don't know when it happened. But it has. I am not a stranger visiting a foreign land anymore. I am an acquaintance living in a foreign land. Maybe at some point, living anywhere just becomes like living anywhere else. Life takes over. And now, indelibly, inevitably, truly-- this place is a part of me, and I am a part of it.

~J.L. Smith

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The REAL New Year

What's that? Is it thunder? Is it World War 3? Is it the Second Coming? No, nope, and not yet. It is Chinese New Year! The rumbling outside isn't from clouds, the window shaking vibrations are not from bombing runs, and things streaking through the air have nothing to do with heaven meeting earth-- its fireworks! And the grandest, most colorful, most celebrative and joyous fireworks you have ever seen, at that. Seriously. The Weasley twins must have studied in China. Gandalf himself must have been Chinese. Because the display that covers all of China on the eve of the lunar New Year is nothing short of magical.

In other places in the world you go and watch fireworks. Here, it is like being inside a firework. Cities in China don't put on firework displays for the New Year. There is no need. When over a billion people all start lighting off fireworks and firecrackers at the same time, the whole country becomes a firework display. Explosions are above you, behind you, all around you. Flashes and pops and cracks and booms fill the streets for hours on end. Rockets zoom into the air, streaking and flying and screaming unto their final blaze of glory and wonder.

Happy New Year everyone. May it be as full of color and light as mine has been so far.

~J.L. Smith

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Scott the Buddhist

micMAC was doing a presentation at a meeting of the Qingdao Business Leaders (QBL), which was kind of a big deal, so on a particular wednesday night in November I found myself in a small conference room full of important people, lots of suits, and lots of social small talk in one of the many five star hotels here in Qingdao.

The most interesting part of the night was probably meeting and talking with Scott. He is an assistant or intern for a law company. He must still be in in his twenties. We were exchanging pleaseantries, and he asked me about school and what I studied. Since I studied at a school called Florida Christian College and majored in Bible and Humanities, that naturally led into talking about Christianity. He had some very interesting things to say.

Apparently he was once a professing Christian. Some Christian English teachers spoke to him and many of his classmates in college about Christ, and most of them became Christians. But after about two years, he left the Church. Why? Because the Chinese Church is “very zealous” but they “don't think things through”. He is now a Buddhist because 1) it makes sense and more importantly 2) it works. Christianity just added more stress to his life, and the church only pressured him. Buddhism actually helps him. He has a high stress life and doing some buddhist relaxation techniques helps him. His conclusion on the Church? “There is no peace in that community.”

No peace. That is his real criticism I think. When pushed, he confessed to not really knowing anything about buddhism's propositional philosophy. It wasn't that Christianity was philosophically or intellectually un-meritable. It was that it did not improve his life pragmatically. It seems that in the increasingly urbanized China, Christianity will have to fight to make itself relevant in the high stress and fast paced world of materialism. Funny. Sounds kind of like another country I know...

~J.L. Smith