четверг, 24 января 2013 г.

Христианство в Индии

В нашем современном мире в начале XXI века "центр тяжести" перемещается от запада к востоку. Евросоюз и США переживают экономический упадок, если не кризис, а поднимаются два "гиганта" на востоке: Китай и Индия (обе страны - древние цивилизации, ядерные державы и имеют население более миллиарда).
Крест Св. Фомы

Хотя как человек западный и евро-центричный меня это в чем-то пугает, как космополит, историк и христианин понимаю, что это - нормально и в порядке вещей. 

Побыв в Китае я заинтересовался и вторым "гигантом" востока: Индия. 

Христианство проник в Индию с самых ранних времен. Есть достоверное предание, что именно Апостол Фома проповедовал здесь с 52г, обратил в веру представителей высшей касты браминов, основал церкви и рукополагал местных служителей. В 180г возможно приезжал в Индию христианский учитель, Пантен, и нашел общину, которая имела Евангелие от Матфея на "иврите" (возможно на арамейском языке). Индийских верующих в Христа называли и называют "насрани" от слова "Назорей". 

Когда в 345 прибыл в Индию торговец-миссионер, Фома Канский, вместе с 400 верующими-беженцами (их преследовали на родине), уже была община христиан. Они относились к несторианской общине восточной Сирии. Со временем связи с несторианской Церковью Востока укреплялись. Патриарх-несторианин Тимофей I учредил митрополию Индии. Появилось второе течение в индийском христианстве: "южные" несториане от Фомы Канского в отличие от "северных" прослеживающих свои корни до Апостола Фомы.  

В XVI португальские мореплаватели и миссионеры прибыли в Индию с благовестием и нашли существующую, самобытную церковь. Со временем церковь Святого Фомы разделилась по разным направлениям. Миссионерская работа велась и ведется и среди других народов Индии. Протестантские миссионеры присоединились к делу благовестия с начала XVIII века: сначала пиестисты из Германии, потом и евангельские христиане из Англии. 

На сегодняшний день христиане составляют около 2,3 % общего населения Индии. 

среда, 23 января 2013 г.

Impressions of China (Part IX): our last day in China

We woke early on 2 January to catch our train to Beijing with less that 24 hours to go before our flight home. Oxana did a good job packing our bags and cases and I got all the money and various documents ready for travel. What I didn't remember to do was to charge the iPad and the mobile phones. Mistake! We only realised this once we were on the train.

I have already written about the bullet train which connects Jinan and Beijing in under 2 hours. Very efficient and comfortable. And not withstanding our rather bulky luggage (with five of us we have a baggage allowance of 100kg but only two of us can actually carry stuff) we made it by taxi to the station and to the waiting hall with some time to spare. We said goodbye to Lawrence and Miao Miao in order to go down to the platform - we had said goodbye to Leo the previous day; we was staying with his Chinese grandparents and his cousin and friend, Jiao Chang.

The train journey was quite calm. We only discovered the uncharged equipment gradually - and were lulled into a false sense of relief when we were able to charge the iPad and Mum's phone in the carriage. It was only after we arrived in Beijing that we discovered our phone was down - and we were planning to split up later in the day.

Arriving in Beijing, we found the taxi rank and headed off for the airport. We had down all the ground work on our previous visit and knew where to go and how much approximately it would cost (about 100 RMB = 10 GBP).

On arriving at the airport we knew to make our way to the 'Aule lounge' which actually turned out to be the 'Hourly lounge'! At this point we were hoping to be able to check in, leave our luggage and relax for the rest of the day. However the booking arrangements were rather strange. Overnight accommodation was only available after 6pm and all the day-time rooms were full. We had to hand our belongings in at 'left luggage' and plan to be back dead on 6pm in the hope of being able to get a space.

The airport is connected to the underground network by a rail-link. We purchased our tickets and headed into town with about 2-3 hours for our tourist visit. Oxana, not having been with us on the previous trip, wanted to see the Forbidden City, while we were keen to visit the zoo and the Pandas. We separated paths slightly nervy with the phone not charged (there was very little battery left). Mum, myself and the three girls took the underground towards the zoo.

Beijing Zoo was great. It was Baltic - and we were frozen by the end of it - but we did find the pandas and spent most of our time seeing them and taking photographs. There must have been about 5 of them in various glass cages and outside. One amusing moment happened when a Chinese student, standing with her back to one of the world's rarest species, asked to take Sophia's photo. White-skinned non-Chinese Europeans are a rare species to the Han Chinese - even in cosmopolitan Beijing!

Time was catching up on us and although we did attempt to find the dolphins and then the giraffes, they were located at the far end of the zoo and various things were closed or inaccessible. In the end we started to make our way back to the airport, but not before Oxana rang to say she was lost and her phone was already virtually out of power, ruling out calling Lawrence and Miao Miao for help (in the end she was helped by some sort of 'citizens' patrol' which reminded Oxana of the good old days in the Soviet Union). It was a rather anxious trip back on the underground and rail-link and we were grateful to see Oxana when we got back. In the event the Hourly Lounge did have availability and we were able finally to dump our bags and relax.

We decided it would be nice to go for a meal together and had a mind to print off our boarding passes. Our meals were fine - generous bowls of noodles in a soya soup, but Mum's non-noodle meal was rather meagre. We then attempted to get some deserts elsewhere - and Mum something more substantial, but to no avail, as there was either very little selection or ludicrous prices. And you couldn't print your boarding pass at the airport for love or money. Even the office which did offer to print off allegedly didn't have internet access. After much ado - and a phonecall to S7 airlines Chinese office - we abandoned the undertaking. In the end I got Lawrence in Jinan to check us in online (although we didn't have a print out to prove this).

At the end of the evening I went for a coffee and a chat with Mum before retiring to bed.

The next morning began at 3am. On awaking I remembered that we needed our housekeys. You can imagine the increasing panic as they were not in the obvious places (where I thought I had left them). I was desparately rifling through all the bags, but no joy. To make things worse my call to Lawrence to book onto the flight had finished off our mobile credit, so we couldn't text folk in Siberia to make arrangements (as far as we knew our spare keys were a three-hour train's ride away from home!). Feeling suitably despondent we realised that if the keys were indeed with us we hadn't lost them in the room and we made our way upstairs for our flight. Mum had kindly awoken and said goodbye to us all. Before we checked in we had an unfortunate attempt to get our bags wrapped in cling film, falling victim to some scammers who pretended to be official aiport staff. The airline and airport stuff were unable to grasp what we were trying to explain; in China 'a little' English means just that. There wasn't much we could do and the scam had only really cost us 5 UK pounds. We had a nice final photo taken in front of an interesting sculpture in the terminal before heading off to the gate. After some hurried duty free shopping we were the last on the flight, which turned out to be virtually empty (20 or so folk).

The flight was quite relaxed... and in the relative calm I found the keys (in the blind panic earlier I had not properly checked one of the pockets on the suitcase). We arrived in Novosibirsk having had a half-decent sleep and kindly met by Alex Richardson.

And so ends our trip to China. 

вторник, 22 января 2013 г.

Impressions of China (Part VIII): Historic sites and Buddhist temples

We woke up on New Year's Day 2013 in China. Mum and Lawrence had been looking after the girls, so we had a nice lie-in. This was to be our last full day in Jinan, before heading back home via Beijing on 2 January. Lawrence rang to make sure we weren't too late, as my sister-in-law, Miao Miao, was keen to show us one more tourist sight before we left.

Earlier on our visit Miao Miao's Dad had shown us around the historic centre of Jinan: Daming lake. This bascially consists of a large park area enclosed by remains of the old city wall with a lake in the middle surrounded by various old buildings, including Buddhist temples. As in Beijing the layout is very open with wide spaces. The old Chinese buildings are pagoda-style and made of brick with intricately carved and painted wooded roofs.

To the untrained Judeo-Christian eye Buddist temples centre around a statue to which worship is offered in the form of incense sticks, other gifts and by bowing down, often with hands held together in a prayer-like gesture. It is difficult to tell, as we didn't get to ask anyone questions, but it would seem that the religious devotion is driven more by specific personal needs than by a sense of worship per se. Chinese, while very contemporary and holding to a scientific worldview, are quite superstitious and attach a lot of importance to the number eight and the colour red. A local custom is to attach red ribbons to special trees as a token of luck.

On the final day of our trip Miao Miao took us to a Buddhist site on the mountainous edge of the city. The complex was rather like a large park. We climbed up the hill and then walked down the hill among various very large statues of Buddha and other related figures, including a female representing kindness. For most of the visitors, possibly including us, the spiritual/religious aspect was incidental and on the square in front of a HUGE and apparently well-fed Buddha (right) were various go-carts and similar rides for children. While there were cushions for genuflexion and a tray for incense sticks in front of the statue, the overall ambience around the statue was more of a day out than worship or religious devotion. It was standing in front of this Buddha that Miao Miao starting to ask me probing question about faith and whether all the religions were not indeed the same.

The central piece of Buddhist site was the cave of ten thousand Buddhas, which basically did exactly what it says on the tin. The cave has obviously been renovated as a tourist site and is a warm, well-lit tunnel decorated by ten thousand (or certainly a very large number) of Buddhist statues. This part of the complex was more conducive to devotion and culminated in a shrine chamber where people were clearly earnestly engaged in acts of worship.

After the park we returned home to a meal of home-made Chinese dumplings and other food. If it weren't for the intenstinal after-shocks of our 'steak' house meal a couple of days before, we would have had a larger appetite, but it was tasty all the same. We were able to spend some more time with Miao Miao's parents and her sister and family (the latter all speak English) and to present some gifts from home.

In the evening I spent some time with Mum and Lawrence, going for a foot massage and then for a few games of pool with Lawrence. All good. I got to bed quite late and we had an early start catching the train to Beijing the following morning.

понедельник, 21 января 2013 г.

Фильм: "Причастье" (Ингмар Бергман, 1963)

Сегодня утром, по рекомендации молодого человека в церкви, я просмотрел фильм шведского директора Ингмара Бергмана: "Причастье" (1963г).

Фильм по атмосфере и по тематике суровый. 

Действие проходит в воскресный день зимой в провинциальной Швеции, где Томас Эрикссон несет служение пастором в государственной лютеранской церкви. Он уже не молодой и, как выясняется позже, он уже четыре года вдовец. На его первой службе присутствуют и принимают причастье пять человек: прислужник-инвалид, молодая супружеская пара, бабушка и молодая Марта.

После службы пара к нему подходит, чтобы беседовать. Муж страждет от депрессии в связи с переживанием о возможной ядерной войне с Китаем. Пастор Томас, сам пребывающий в глубокой депрессии и терзаемый сомнениями, не может утешать молодого мужа, а вместо этого делится своими сомнениями. В итоге молодой муж совершает самоубийство, оставляя без кормильца беременную жену и троих детей.

Еще в приходе присутствует Марта, любовница пастора, незамужняя, простая школьная учительница, замученная их сложными отношениями, но искренне любящая его. Она написала ему письмо, в котором она обвиняет пастора Томаса, но и объясняется ему в любви. После беседы с мужчиной, в итоге совершившим самоубийство, пастор наконец отрекается от веры в Бога, считая, что без Бога мир проще объяснить. Неоднократно он ссылается на "Божье молчание", что отражается в суровом молчании в самом фильме. Марта, сама атеистка, обнимает его. Пастор принимает ее ласки, но не отвечает на них. Потом входит бабушка, которая также присутствовала на службе, и передает новость о гибели молодого мужа, беседовавшего с пастором.

Пастор едет на место самоубийства, потом заезжает к Марте в школу. Оттуда он едет к жене покойника, чтобы передать новость о его смерти, беря с собой Марту.

В конце фильма Томас приезжает на еще одну службу в другой деревне. Перед службой с ним беседует прислужник-инвалид, который говорит об одиночестве и "сомнениях" Христа как о более страшных  страданиях для Христа, чем физические. Когда начинается служба в церкви присутствуют только пианист, прислужник и Марта.

Фильм впечатляющий, хоть и вовсе нехристианский, и пытаюсь вникать в его смысл вообще и для себя лично.

1) Во-первых фильм говорит об уходящем месте веры в пост-христианском мире. Ингмар Бергман выражает кризис веры в Швеции и вообще в Европе, показывая пустую церковь, сомневающегося пастора и людей лишенных надежды.

2) Во-вторых, если копать глубже, то мы видим корень этого "разочарования": напряжение между утешительной верой и неутешительной реальностью. Пастор Томас говорил о своей вере в доброго, Бога-Отца и о несовместимости этой утешительной веры с реалиями жизни. Находясь в Лиссабоне пастор игнорировал жестокости испанской гражданской войны, потом он потерял свою любимую жену, а теперь он мучается (и мучает) в сложных отношениях с любовницей. Его "разуверование" представляется не как освобождение, а скорее как отчаянный шаг ничем не улучшающий его участь. Высказанные сомнения пастора - последняя капля для мужа, который совершает самоубийство.

3) Каков выход? Молодой муж совершил самоубийство. Пьяный пианист в церкви предлагает Марте уехать, чтобы убежать от безисходности деревенской жизни. Марта сама теплит надежду о браке с Томасом. А пастор Томас просто хочет, чтобы его оставили в покое, в одиночестве. Он говорит, что он о себе уже не думает, что он умер вместе с женой. По большому счету не предлагается выход, разве только в размышлениях прислужника-инвалида или же в молитвенной просьбе Марты к Богу, чтобы он дал ей веру. Я воспринимаю эту просьбу, обращенную к Богу к концу фильма, как ее недовольство неверием и потребность верить. 

воскресенье, 20 января 2013 г.

Impressions of China (Part VII)

We arrived back from Beijing late on Friday evening; snow delayed the train by about an hour as we left late and travelled slightly slower. We only had a few days left in Jinan, as we were due to fly back to Russia very early on Thursday morning and Wednesday would be spent travelling to Beijing.

This symbol means horse and is pronounced 'ma'
As I have already said I made a concerted effort during my stay to make something of the Chinese characters and by the time we left China I could recognise and pronounce maybe 30 or so. It is estimated that about 2-3 thousand are required for functional literacy, but some are more commonly used than others and with my very limited knowledge every second or third sign made some sense.

My very limited knowledge of Chinese did not help me much when I went for a haircut. In future I will plan these things better and pre-empt particular situations. Basically, I just walked into the local hairdresser with mum and signalled that I would like a haircut. This prompted a mild panic and the obvious question, "Do you speak Chinese?" Having given the less preferable answer and when my brother Lawrence was unable to help over the mobile, I was invited to sit down and was given what I shall call a shampoo massage by an attractive female hairdresser. Somewhat embarassed and also aware of the potential cost I signalled that I wanted my hair cut (scissors gesture) and was whisked away to have my hair rinsed. The rest of the haircut was done by a male hairdresser. He asked the obvious question, namely, "What do you want done?" I hadn't planned this far ahead. A succession of outlandish Chinese hairstyles were flashed in front of me until we came across the nearest thing to front, back and sides (I exaggerate) - which I opted for. In the end it was rather short, but looked fine. There was also an 'ET' moment when one of the hairdressers pulled out Google Earth on his IPad and asked me where I was from. The simple explanation was to say 'Edinburgh'. Introducing Novosibirsk into the equation would have made things too complicated. There is only so much you can explain without words.

The next day Kiera and I went out exploring the town on the bus. We travelled into town and then walked around, finding a less up-market shopping street cum market and then finding ourselves near a shopping centre we had visited earlier. From here we jumped on a trolleybus, guessing that the overhead cables were more likely to take us straight ahead; our aim was to find the Chinese church we had attended on Christmas eve (photo right taken at night). We had not managed to make the morning service, and I was hopeful that maybe we could meet someone later on Sunday. We did find the church (I told Kiera to shout out when she saw a big cross), but it was all locked up and despite us hanging about for a wee while, no one came out and we went on our way. Once Kiera had exacted a present from me (princess set including battery-operated wand) we caught a taxi back to Lawrence's.

That evening we went out with Lawrence and Mum to another shopping centre, paying for the children to be in the play area and then went for a meal at the 'steak' house. The inverted commas around the word steak are largely due to the food poisoning Oxana got from her dodgy bit of beef.

The next day we travelled to the Zoo. It was rather cold again, although the day did turn out quite nice and we saw lots of animals and the children enjoyed it. Lawrence donned by Russian ushanka winter hat and did a very good impression of me. By this time it was rush hour and we spent ages getting back home in a very full bus, Kiera falling asleep on a step.

It was New Year's eve, which, much like 25 December, is not such a big deal in China. We decided to order KFC which combined with various snacks and fruit accumulated over the last few days was our Hogmanay meal (= 31 December). Oxana and I went off to see in the New Year together which Lawrence and Mum looked after Sophia, Kiera and Tanya. We didn't do anything wild - just saw in the New Year watching Chinese TV, trying to catch familiar words and characters on the screen. All very show-bizzy: boy bands and choreographed dancing troops performing to rousing tunes - patriotic but not political. Pictures of New Year then came in from various locations around China, including Taipei (capital of Taiwan, which is not officially recognised by the People's Republic of China).  

суббота, 19 января 2013 г.

Impressions of China (Part VI): Beijing

Having visited other world cities - London, Paris, Berlin, Milan, Rome, Moscow and now more recently Istanbul and Toronto - we were very keen to see Beijing. We almost didn't make it due to problems buying tickets and concerns about the children, but in the end we were able to make two short trips. We didn't regret it.

Sophia and I travelled to Beijing by bullet train. The Japanese-style trains - with airport-style train stations to match - were absolutely fantastic. We were travelling at 300 kmph for two hours in comfort for 20 pounds return. Very convenient and a classic example of the New China.

Beijing is not the ancient capital of China and, if memory serves, it has only been the capital city since the times of the Mongol ascendency in the 13th century, which incidentally coincided with the visit of Marco Polo. However that takes nothing from its stature and magnificence in today's China and today's world. 

The population of the city, whose name means 'Northern Stone', is around the 20 million mark. The smog problems publicised at the time of the 2008 Olympics and in the last few weeks were not a problem when we were there, however one is aware of being in a huge metropolis. Old and new peacefully co-exist, with vast housing complexes and commercial tower blocks intermingled with ancient pagoda's and the traditional hutongs (low-rise housing connected by narrow alley-ways). Beijing, particularly the centre, doesn't feel claustrophobic or excessively built-up. In fact there are lots of open spaces and a lot of the buildings are not particularly tall. 

Tiananmen Square
Our hotel, courtesy of Conrad and Jenny, was the Peace Novotel near the Forbidden City. The rooms were very comfortable and warm (we had become accustomed to being cold inside). It took us maybe 40 minutes by taxi to reach it from Beijing south station. Having left our belongings we made our way off towards the central sights. We stopped on the way to have lunch, which rather surprisingly was not unduly expensive and we were able to enjoy the privacy of a separate room. The usual fare of rice and accompanying dishes - all very tasty. We then made our way by foot to the forbidden city along a minor road lined with one-storey buildings with plenty of souvenirs for sale. It took longer than expected as the 1.3 km distance from the hotel did not take account of the entrance to the Forbidden City being at the other end.

As you walk onto the main thoroughfare you can feel the approaching immensity of Tiananmen square

For those who have been to Moscow, the parallel is Red Square - a huge expanse in front of the royal citadel (which is basically what the Forbidden city is/was), however multiply by at least two and add in the weight of history, the size of China and the events of 1989. The police presence is heavy and visible. Chinese are stopped and their ID card numbers registered in handheld computers. Bags are searched and to get onto the actual square, scanned airport-style. The entire space is covered with cameras which follow people as they move around. No one is taking any chances. 

The actual Forbidden City is at one end of Tiananmen Square, separated by a busy main road. Its design is a series of several pagoda-style gate houses finally leading you to the throne of the Emperor. The first gate house now features a huge photo of Chairman Mao, founder of the People's Republic. Visitors pass through this first gate through a tunnel and into the first huge courtyard. On our first visit, due to earlier winter closing times, this is as far as we got. However the following day we managed to get into the main attraction and walked through several courtyards and gate-houses, taking in the ornate painted woodwork. The official map shows the vastness of the complex, littered with neatly places pagodas, each a sight in their own right. Only the cold distracted from the awe-inspiring reality of being metres away from the seat of the most powerful man on earth for much of recorded history. Time was not on our side and we had trains to catch, so we had to make our way through the complex at increasing pace. You emerge the other end of the Forbidden City somewhat in the middle of nowhere, although having been told the number of the trolleybus we made it back to where we needed to be. 

The evening of the first day of our visit, Lawrence and I decided to go and explore the city by night. It was a chance for a little adventure and also for some time to chat. Coming out of the hotel around 10-ish we realised it might be difficult to get transport and the taxi drivers wanted ridiculous sums of money to take us where we wanted to go. In the end we gambled on an electric rickshaw... Quite an experience. He took us along all the backstreets, the traditional hutongs, in the pitch dark. At one point we had a large car very close to our tail. At another he randomly stopped to change batteries. What had looked like fibreglass sides were actually cloth, keeping in the heat, but rather flimsy in the event of a collision (no, we were fine). We finally arrived at our destination, Qianmen street. By the time we got there the pedestrian precinct with a tram line running down the middle and major global brands like Haagen Daas and others, was deserted and closed. However turning off the main street we entered another world - a labyrinth of narrow alleyways packed with establishments selling food. We walked and walked, looking for somewhere still open and finally found a cafe-like place with a statue of Mao and friendly-looking staff. They can't have seen many foreigners because they insisted on taking our picture and asked Lawrence lots of questions about where we were from. The bill for the meal was also a fraction of what we had paid elsewhere and we had plenty eat and lots left over. We made our way back not knowing whether we found find transport, but there were plenty of taxis on the main road and it only cost us half of the rickshaw fare to get back (that's what comes of using the official meter instead of making up the price).

The next day we got up early for our trip to the Great Wall. I can't imagine there is anyone who has not heard of this great feat of engineering. It isn't disappointing and after an hour or so of driving due north from the city one starts to head uphill until the Wall is visible on the ridge of the mountains. The whole thing took something like 2000 years to build and its total length is over 8800 kms (only half is currently restored). That is something like the entire length of Russia from one end to another... of wall! The Wall, or the bit we visited, is accessible by cable car. The actual Wall, built of yellowy-grey stone, is rather like an extended rampart around a castle - only stretched out in one direction. Every 50 metres or so the wall is interrupted by a sort of turret, which is where soldiers would have been stationed. The edifice snakes off into the distance in either direction and one has a sense both of its magnitude and of the historical significance of this front-line of Chinese civilisation. When it came down to it the Mongols still got through and occupied the throne for a whole dynasty - although they say that it was the conquered who ultimately changed the conqueror and not vice versa. It was one of those sights which it actually doesn't take that long to visit. I guess we could have walked along for some distance, but Sophia's feet were frozen and it was slippy, so having seen it and taken the photos we made our way back.

We said goodbye to Conrad and Jenny in Beijing and headed off for our train back. I will save the account of our second Beijing visit for another post.

Impressions of China (Part V): Christmas and Boxing Day in China

When I was little, Christmas day was always the Special Day in the year par excellence. Commerce and parents hyped it up to fever pitch and I could never get to sleep on Christmas Eve, not least in expectation of a late-night visit from Father Christmas. Living in Russia, where the Orthodox Church still follows the Old Calendar, I have got used to the idea that not everyone celebrates Christmas day when I do. Not suprisingly in China Christmas day is a day like any other. So any festive cheer was always going to be self-generated. (Incidentally, New Year is much the same; the main holiday for the Chinese is in late January/early February.) Having purchased gifts for one another by Christmas Eve, we spent the latter part of the evening decorating the flat where we were staying. And in the morning everyone arrived early to open presents. Having done so we eventually made our way to a Mister Pizza restaurant for Christmas dinner. This was followed by some more shopping, as we had semi-chosen but not yet purchased the 'transformer' for little Leonardo (my cousin). Later in the evening we had a game of charades in the house, before everyone made their way home to relax. Everyone was quite tired after all the rushing about over recent days. It was a nice, quiet Christmas together, the last since we gathered in Edinburgh for New Year 2004 and, prior to that, since Christmas 2000.

Boxing Day, 26 December, was our last day all together in Jinan. The day began with Lawrence's and my family enjoying a tasty Chinese-style brunch out and a visit to the Post Office to send off our Christmas cards (complete with the names of the countries written in Chinese - an achievement!). I found the way to my nephew Leo's heart by drawing pictures which he had to guess the name of (photo). Later we had to purchase train tickets for our trip to Beijing the following day, which proved time-consuming and almost fell through altogether. In the end we purchased tickets for my middle brother, Conrad, and sister-in-law, Jenny, while we would chance our luck on the following day. Meanwhile, Lawrence planned activities tailored to Conrad: a visit to an amusement arcade and a Jackie Chan film.

The last film I watched with Jackie Chan was called 'Meals on wheels' and was almost cartoon-like in its characters and plot. However, CZ12, its English title was an improvement in some respects. It was of course goofy, however this time it was more 'James Bond meets Mr. Bean'. Jackie Chan is a big star in China, and our Beijing taxi driver referred to him as 'our Huang Di' (i.e. our Emperor)! The film was in multiple languages (Chinese, English, French and others) with Chinese subtitles. It was eminently followable for us; we were even able to pick out some of the Chinese (one, two, three and other simple phrases). The plot hinged around cultural artefacts stolen during the Second Opium War and the burning down of the Winter Palace in Beijing and during the course of the time 'stolen back' by a Scooby Doo gang of young Chinese. There was a definite patriotic feel to the film and spent time in China we could empathise with it. It was also just good fun and a family experience. Settings ranged from the banks of the Seine in Paris to a jungle island, from French chateaux to yachts at sea. The climax of the film involved skydiving over a volcano, from which Jackie Chan recovered to be reconciled with an out-of-sorts girlfriend.

In the evening we went out for a more up-market hot-pot meal (see part II). Mum found the experience a bit unpleasant, fearing food poisoning, however the more immediate danger was hypothermia, as the restaurant was poorly heated and even the cook seemed to be wearing a winter hat to keep warm. We finished off the day with a trip to KTV, which is basically karaoke, a hit with the locals and a chance to walk down memory lane and relax together before our trip to Beijing the next day.

пятница, 18 января 2013 г.

Впечатления о Китае (часть IV): Христианство в Китае

Христианская вера впервые появилась в Китае в VII веке когда такие несторианские монахи как А-Ло-Пен из Месопотамии принесли "Светлую религию" в Серединное царство. Этот факт запечатлен на т.н. Несторианской стеле 781г.

Миссия Римско-католической церкви в Китай началась в XIII веке, и была обновлена при Франциске Ксаверии в XVI веке. О присутствии римо-католиков в Китае свидетельствует громадный собор в г. Дзинани (фото) на территории государственного университета Шандонгской провинции. Русская православная церковь открыла миссию в 1682н на базе российского посольства в Пекине.

Первым протестантским миссионером в Китай был Роберт Мориссон в 1807. Он нес служение в порте Кантоне, так как в то время Империя была закрыта и передвижение воспрещено для иностранцев. В результате т.н. Опиумских войн, соглашения 1842 и 1858гг открыли Китай для ввоза опиума и также предоставили въезд для иностранных миссионеров, самый известный из которых - Хадсон Тейлор. Влияние зарубежных государств в Китае, в том числе миссионерская работа, стало яблоком раздора в XIX и XX вв. и послужило фактором по крайней мере в двух кровавых массовых восстаниях.

К 1914г были около 1,5 миллиона римо-католиков и 250 тысяч протестантов в Китае (при общем населении 400 миллионов). Китайская церковь была утверждена и имела перспективу, что дальше вырастет. Однако после наступления Китайской Народной Республики в 1949г все иностранные миссионеры были выдворены и церкви подвергались преследованиям.

Если перемотать до 2013г, то ситуация кардинально изменилась. Церковь не только прошла все испытания, но и процветает и растет как самобытное движение и на сегодняшний день охватывает от 40 до 100 миллионов человек. Есть официальные государством разрешенные объединения церквей протестантов и католиков, которые насчитывают соответственно 18 миллионов и 6 миллионов членов и приближенных. Сверх этого есть неисчислимое количество протестантов и католиков, которые находятся вне этой государственной структуры, возможно еще 30 миллионов протестантов и 7 миллионов католиков - а может быть намного больше.

Накануне Рождества Христова (24 декабря) мы ходили на рождественский концерт в одной государственной протестантской церкви, вместе с другими иностранцами (откуда некитайские лица на фотографии). На угад были около 1000 посадочных мест в молитвенном доме и зал был уже полный за час до начала в 19.00. Люди стояли сзади и с помощью большого экрана и колонки передали службу для тех, кто стоял на улице (или проходил мимо). Были представлены все возраста, включая семьи с ребенком. Пока концерт не начался, присутствующие пели такие известные по всему миру рождественские гимны как "Тихая ночь" в ревностном китайском исполнении. Концерт начался с краткого обращения прочитанного по бумашке старшим пастором в пуховике (было прохладно в помещении). Основная часть концерта - выступления музыкальных ансамблей разных возрастов, включая детский хор. К концу концерта были менее уместные выступления на тему "все народы Китая" - танцевальная постановка в стиле балета и смешная сценка с участием представителя уйгурской национальности. Однако общее впечатление было о живой церкви, празднующей рождение Спасителя во всеслышании.

В разговорах с нехристианами (Джао Ли, моя невестка Мяю Мяю и другие) я так понял, что христианство присутствует, имеет какое-то признание и растет, но, по крайней мере среди тех нехристиан, среди которых общался я, не было верующих среди узкого круга друзей и родных и сама вера незнакома. Кажется, что в таком большом городе как Дзинань все лишь несколько церквей на общее население 4-6 миллионов и мы не видели неофициальные церкви. Современные китайцы открыты разговаривать и задавать вопросы о вере и сами поднимают тему, но видно что очень мало знают. Это также касается более традиционной для Китая буддистской веры, которую практикуют лишь небольшое меньшинство и то в основном не молодежного возраста (при этом в городе есть огромный монашеский комплекс - фото). Кажется, что материализм и суета повседневной жизни требует то время и те усилия  которые можно было потратить на духовный поиск или на практику веры.

Impressions of China (Part IV): Christianity in China

Christianity first appeared in China back in the 7th century when Nestorian monks such as Alopen from Syriac-speaking Mesopotamia brought the Luminous religion to the Central Kingdom. This is recorded on the famous Nestorian Stele of 781.

The Roman Catholic church began its own mission somewhat later in the 13th century, later renewed in the 16th century by Francis Xavier and others. As a testimony to the Roman Catholic church in China  there is a huge Gothic-style church in Jinan (photo) on the campus of Shandong University. The Russian Orthodox Church opened its mission in the 1682 based at the Russian Embassy in Peking.

The first Protestant missionary was Robert Morrison in 1807 based in the port city Canton, as at that time the Empire was closed for foreigners. As a result of the shameful Opium wars, treaties in 1842 and 1858 opened China up for the import of opium, also affording entry for thousands of foreign missionaries, the most famous being Hudson Taylor. Foreign influence, including missionary work, was a bone of contention in the 19th and 20th centuries and was a factor in at least two bloody, mass uprisings (Taiping and Boxer rebellions).

In 1914 there were 1.5 million Romans Catholics and 250 thousand Protestants in China (with a total population of 400 million). The Chinese church was established - with every prospect of further growth. However in the wake of the Revolution of 1949 all foreign missionaries were deported and the church subjected to persecution.

Fast forward to 2013 and the situation has been completely transformed. Not only did the Chinese church survive the ordeals of the Cultural Revolution, it thrived and grew as an indigenous movement and currently represents anything from 40 to 100 million people. There are government-approved Protestant and Catholic denominations, officially numbering 18  million and 6 million adherents respectively. There are also uncalculated millions of Protestants and Catholics who worship outwith these structures, a conservative estimate being an additional 30 million and 7 million respectively - and maybe in reality many more.

On Christmas Eve we attended a carol concert at a state-approved Protestant church, along with various foreigners (hence the non-Chinese at the front of the photo). At a guess the building holds a thousand people and it was full an hour before the 7pm start. People were standing at the back and there was a big video screen and speakers to relay the service to those outside. All ages were represented including families with children. While waiting for the concert to begin, the congregation were led in singing Silent Night and other famous western carols in fervent Chinese rendition. The concert began with a brief and somewhat scripted address by the pastor wearing an anorak (it was pretty cold in the building!). The main part of the service was a succession of performances by choirs of various ages, including a children's choir. Towards the end there seemed to be rather out-of-place pieces on the theme of 'the united peoples of China' - a ballet-style dance and a humorous piece by Uighurs (Turkic people native to China). However overall the impression was of a vigorous church celebrating the Saviour's birth for all to hear.

Speaking to non-Christians (Jiao Li, my sister in law Miao Miao and others) during our visit, the impression I got was that Christianity is present, accepted and growing, but, certainly among those non-Christians I met, not represented among their immediate circle of family and friends and something of an unknown entity. There appear to be only a handful of state-approved churches in a city of 4-6 million and no sign of any unofficial churches. Modern Chinese are open to talk and ask questions  about God, raising the questions themselves, but also clearly with very little previous knowledge. This would also be true in relation to the more traditional Buddhist faith, apparently practised only by a small minority especially among young people (despite the presence of a huge shrine complex in the city - photo). One imagines that materialism and the demands of everyday life currently take up the time and energy which might be devoted to spiritual searching or the practice of faith.  

четверг, 17 января 2013 г.

Impressions of China (Part III)

Jinan, where my brother Lawrence has been living since 2009, is a busy city of somewhere between 4 and 6 million people.

On day five of our visit Oxana and two of the girls went for various medical procedures at a local hospital. The following day our girls took part in an art class for Chinese pre-schoolers, attended by their cousin, Leo.

Much of our time in Jinan was spent travelling by public transport or taxi to various places, often connected in one way or other with shopping.
There is certainly plenty to buy in China, which someone has nicknamed the world's factory. There are lots of shopping centres with expensive shops as well as cheaper, smaller walk-in kiosk-like shops selling unbranded goods. Plenty of western brands have found their way into China, not least MacDonalds, but also Tommy Hilfiger, Benetton, Lego, Hello Kitty (my list no doubt gives away our family predelictions!). If one eats out in Chinese places and buys everyday items things are cheaper, but if you go for the branded restaurants and shops prices are much the same as the UK. Later on we made a pre-Christmas shopping trip, including a local Tesco's outlet with lots of Chinese foods, and finished off the day with a relaxed meal at Pizza Hut.

On day six of our visit we had a second formal meal, this time to thank Miao Miao's relative who kindly invited my mum and brother to stay in their 5-star hotel in Jinan. As already intimated, gifts are very important in China. Another related aspect is 'face'. No doubt many will be familiar with this concept, that in Chinese and other oriental societies it is very important not to lose 'face' - i.e. to be ashamed in front of others. While by no means oppressive we did experience something of this first hand as we interacted with our in-laws in China. Lili is obviously a very wealthy lady and her gift of two hotel rooms for over a week was exceedingly generous. (On top of this she then presented each of us with further gifts.) When she arrived at the meal it was obviously appropriate to stand and to show deference throughout the meal; UK-style familiarity was clearly out of place. While we might smile to show we are relaxed, in China a smile shows that one is maintaining face. The meal passed without incident and was actually quite enjoyable. With the help of Lawrence's brother-in-law, Gavin (his English name), I made other short speech in Chinese - about how Lawrence liked living in Jinan and so on - which was understood.

среда, 16 января 2013 г.

Impressions of China (Part II)

China manages to be both ancient and modern at the same time.

On the morning of day 4 of our visit we went for a massage. In China people go for a massage in much the same way as one might go for a haircut. My brother goes about once a week after work. Immediately discard images of seediness or loose women. The staff are professionals with several years training, dressed in white medical gowns and with a decidedly non-sexual determination to rub, elbow, press and bend your body back to health and vigour. The premises feature detailed diagrams of the body, charting ancient knowledge about pressure points and connected parts of the body. 45 minutes costs the yuan equivalent of five UK pounds; good value but I wasn't tempted to ask for more time. Despite requests to take it easy on the foreigner the massage guy worked my back and neck showing no pity. My emergency stop button was the Chinese word 'tang' which means pain. I mean pain. My brothers took some audio-video footage of me 'enjoying' the experience. No, I hope it doesn't make it to Youtube. Having said that, once released, I profusely thanked my tormentor. I genuinely think it did me good.

Later the same day we visited one of the three main tourist attractions of Jinan: the Baotuquan springs. Around the central feature - a triple natural spring, bringing hot water to the surface - is a sophisticated park complex in distinctive old Chinese style. Despite the winter temperatures the combination of trees and one- and two-storey Chinese wooden buildings creates a relaxing atmosphere. One of the buildings is devoted to a local writer who around the 10th century wrote Chinese poetry and spent the final period of her life as an itinerary poet. One is struck by the cultural sophistication of the time, including the education of women, especially when compared with our own civilisation about the same time. Notwithstanding my brothers' and daughters' drawn-out snowball fight we were able to take in the various features and buildings, even sampling a tea soup in an ornate tea house near the springs. 

It was getting dark by the time we left and we had an important dinner in the evening. The parents of my sister-in-law, Miao Miao, had invited us to a formal meal to welcome us to Jinan. Having purchased some additional presents for Miao Miao's aunts (in China what you give to whom in the presence of whom is a major cultural issue), we headed off to the restarant. The format was a buffet with a wide range of international and local foods, including various fish and other seafoods. Besides having a very generous meal we had a chance to meet the in-laws and extended family (Mum had already met folk on her previous visit). Thanks to translation by Lawrence, Miao Miao and her sister and brother-in-law we were all able to ask questions and hold conversations. I was particularly interested to ask about Chinese history and also about how the city had changed in the last 30 or so years. Various speeches of welcome and thanks were made. I also made a 3-4 sentence speech in Chinese which a healthy sense of self-preservation has so far prevented me from publishing online. Here is our group photograph at the end of the evening.

понедельник, 14 января 2013 г.

Impressions of China (part I)

Early in the morning of 18 December 2012 our family flew into Beijing Capital Airport from Novosibirsk - our first visit to China. The occasion of our visit was a family reunion for Christmas, however we also had the opportunity of discovering a new country, China, and a new continent, Asia. I would like to share some of our many impressions of this visit.

Beijing Airport is a vast, modern airport in the mould of Frankfurt, Schipol or Heathrow. The difference is that it is in China and as we stepped off the aircraft the first thing we noticed was the Chinese script. The first word we saw was exit, the second symbol depicting a door. Tired from a short night's sleep in the plane we made our way through the terminal through immigration, on the maglev train to baggage reclaim and then checked in for our onward flight. We eventually found a cheap Chinese restaurant and enjoyed our first local food (photo). Somewhat surreally the airport terminal is decorated for Christmas and the public address system playing English-language Christmas carols about 'figgy pudding' and the wonders of the Incarnation. That's globalisation for you!

Arriving in Jinan later that day we were met by my sister-in-law, Miao Miao, and were pleasantly surprised by the warm weather (after minus 40 in Novosibirsk!). As we drove along the motorway into the city the landscape seemed quite normal. As we drove into the city it reminded us somewhat of Istanbul with lots of modern-style mult-storey buildings with plenty of advertising. It was at this stage that we saw our first Chinese flag; the Communist Party does not dominate life with slogans and flags, but appears to govern under the surface. We started to try and make something of the signage, asking what various symbols meant. The upward-facing three-pronged fork means 'mountain' and is pronounced 'shan'. Unloading our luggage we walked to the flat where we would be staying. Again things seemed quite normal - not too many people, familiar-looking buildings and inside the flat nothing was too strange.

Later that day, having rested a bit, I went to collect my nephew from nursery with my brother. Along the way we stopped to buy a toy car. Lawrence is able to converse in Chinese. Already I was able to discern some words. Chinese comes across as a succession of staccato syllables with simple grammar. At least in conversational Chinese, understanding is acknowledged with the expression, "okay, okay". The nursery was quite similar to a Russian one, but more institutional with a queue mainly of grandparents admitted to collect their child in a managed way using a magnetic card. Our first evening out was at a noodle restaurant in a very plush shopping centre (built since Lawrence's arrival three years ago).

The second day of our visit we went into town. The buses are frequent, cheap and - outwith rush hour - not crowded. A plasma television screen provides advertising and a recorded voice announces the stops. Walking around one is aware of being the only non-Chinese and people do stare or take photos/video footage on their phones. We walked around the city centre, visiting a book shop, a bag shop and various other shops. The book shop had a vast selection of books, mainly by national authors, and various floors and departments. There was one table apparently devoted to political books with titles such as, "How the CCP governs China," and elsewhere a stand about the recent Party congress, but otherwise no obvious sign of restrictions. We walked down the traditional Chinese shopping street - narrow with two-storey buildings in the traditional style (photo). The street vendors food has a strong distinctive smell (frying fat?). Having purchased various small items we ended up in a restaurant called Dicos with quasi-western fast food.

What had appeared warm weather was already proving deceptive and we were quite cold walking around. In the end we were glad of the heating in a basement shop selling everything from hats and scarves to greetings cards and ornaments. We got back later than anticipated. By this time Lawrence was already having dinner with his friend, Jiao Li, and I joined them. The local custom seems to be to offer generous favours (in the case collecting from the airport) but these should be acknowledged and reciprocated (eg a meal out). The format in the restaurant was 'hot pot' - a boiling pot of water in the centre of the table heated by wood or coal into which one drops raw meat and vegetables, fishing them out when ready. Jiao Li is what I imagine is typical up-and-coming modern Chinese: married, in her early thirties and running a business providing extra-curricular activities for schoolchildren (including English). Embarassment and lack of practice made for something of a language barrier, however I was able to ask various questions and get answers. I asked about work and about literacy-teaching to children (learning the main characters occupies much of the first few years of school). She was interested to ask about my faith in God (Shang Di - the exalted Emperor in Chinese), something to which she aspired. She said that she knew believers of various faiths, although she said these were mainly older people.

We collected mum from the airport, arriving slightly late due to misunderstanding the arrival time. Driving back in the dark Lawrence conversed in Chinese while mum and I spoke in English. The hotel room offered by Lawrence's in-laws was extremely luxurious. Again this extremely generous favour was clearly to be acknowledged with various phonecalls made and so forth. Lawrence and I got a taxi back home, heading to bed after a brief chat in the small park near our flat.