Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My Two Christmases in China

2010 winter holidays are behind us now but the memories of my "Christmas time" in China lingers.

Though without religion, I was intrigued by the rather mysterious rituals of Christmas and the allure of a secretive cult, and tried twice to participate or at least observe a Christmas mass in China and both times, I failed.

The first time, it was in the late eighties.  I was in Dalian, a beautiful port city in northern China for my undergraduate study.  On one Christmas eve, several friends and I went to downtown, and find the unremarkable small parish church near the center of the city.

Dalian ChurchThe little courtyard in front of the church was half-filled when we got there around 7 or 8 pm.  We were able to peep into the nave and it was almost full, and the empty seats were all reserved as well.  Even our attempt to take a quick look of the interior was thwarted by the vigilant guards who obviously distrusted anyone unfamiliar.

We lingered a bit in the courtyard, trying to assess what we might gain by waiting out patiently.  An old woman circled around us slowly and made small talks to us.  She seemed nice enough so we chatted with her a bit.  She was willing to help but she told us that only people who were affiliated with the church could go in for the service.  Disappointed, I asked her for a consolation prize - a Bible.  I had read selected stories from the Bible but not itself.  Bible was and is not allowed to be sold in bookstores there.  She carefully watched our surroundings, and took me to a corner, out of ear shots of the others and briefed me that if I was indeed interested in the Bible, I should try to visit the church often and they'd notice me and invite me to services and eventually they'd give me a copy.  It was not allowed to do it publicly, therefore I need to be discreet about her help.  The tenacity it demanded was too much, considering that it took more than hour-long expensive bus ride from my remote campus to get there, I gave it up.

Catherdral, ShenyangMy next try was the winter after I graduated from college and before I came to the U.S.  There was an immense cathedral in my home city, Shenyang, which was the center of Christmas Eve mass, which my sister and I tried to be part of it.  However, our effort was thwarted once again, by the incredibly thick crowd, braving the freezing cold night.  We were there rather late and only caught a glimpse of the procession - a bishop, following choir boys waving incense, led an impressive solemnly and fancifully attired entourage through the thickets of the onlookers, towards the heavy gates, we knew it would be impossible to get pass.

Those were the two only attempts I tried to enter a church on Christmas eves.  I have returned to the Cathedral but never got chance to see the interior.  The gates were always closed when I visited the site.  In the U.S., despite the freedom to do so, or perhaps because of it, I felt no interest in participate of witness a Christmas service.

I do have a Bible at home, but haven't really read it, despite the importance of it.  That said, I don't think I am totally ignorant of the doctrines of Christianity and over the years, I even produced some paintings full of religious undertones, such as the 2003 painting Dissonance below:

Dissonance / 不和諧音 / Dissonanz

>> My Path, Part VI: To be continued
<< My Path, Part IV: My First Devastation and Cynicism

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