Archive for July, 2008

In Qufu

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Anne’s father took us to Qufu, the home of Confucius. We have always heard of the sayings of Confucius, and I’ve read a few books that describe his ideas. The scope of his influence is incredible when you consider that his teachings have teen the basis for many Asian cultures starting 2500 years ago. We learned that someone described his influence by making a statement that roughly translates as, “Emperors come and go, but Confucius is always there.” Emperors would come to his home and pour a glass of wine onto the ground as a sacrifice demonstrating their respect for him. Even in English, people use the phrase, “Confucius say…” about a wise statement. But in America we understand very little of what he taught.

As we arrived in Qufu, one of the first things we saw was a painting on a wall with a quote from Confucius: “What a pleasure to receive visitors from afar!” We want to express a similar feeling in reverse: “What a pleasure to be a visitor from afar!”

I say that because many of Confucius’ ideas help to make China such a warm, welcoming place. He emphasized things like respect, benevolence, kindness, the importance of family, and appropriate behavior. I don’t know much about the rituals or \"appropriate behaviors\" that he taught, but I do appreciate those principles. Maybe some of the similarities I see between my values and Chinese values are a result of the influence Confucius had.

In addition to learning some new things, we also had a lot of fun. Here\'s a picture of Anne\'s father playing with Jacob.  Anne\'s father was trying to get Jacob to roar like a lion,  and it worked.   I like this picture because it looks like two lions playing.

And here\'s a picture of our family with a picture of a mythical Chinese beast called a Qilin (or Kylin, as it\'s sometimes spelled.) We can hope that the Qilin brings us good luck.

In Confucius’ home, we saw a plaque that showed the four important ways that he said our principles should be expressed: poetry, books, music, and ceremonies. As I think about the ways we express our principles, I can recognize the same four elements. It’s exciting to find similarities at such a fundamental level between cultures that have very different histories.


We met Yao Ming!

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Anne’s cousin, Lao 6, loves to play basketball. He’s tall, active, and energetic. He’s not Yao Ming, but he is a Chinese basketball player :). He’s actually a student at the Chinese military academy, where we hope he’ll be very successful.

Since the Chinese pronunciation of the number 6 sounds a lot like the name “Leo”, and since “Leo” means “Lion”, and that’s a good name for a military person, we suggested that we could call him “Leo.” He was pleased with the name, so we’re using it now. We think Leo is very impressive, very smart, and very fun.

While I was talking to Leo and his cousin, one of them mentioned that they heard some Americans think of China as an enemy. I know sometimes Americans think that way, but it’s hard to imagine Leo as an enemy. He loves the NBA (especially Allen Iverson), he speaks excellent English (he was one of our primary translators), and he is very friendly. He’s comfortable with both children and adults, and everybody likes him. I hope there are many people like him in the Chinese army, because I want very much for our two countries to be friends.

Leo’s school is very challenging. He needs to work long hours and has very little freedom. Soon he will experience the Chinese equivalent of boot camp and then the government will select a position for him. We hope that he receives a position where he can show his talents and be very successful. We also know that his long hours of hard work will bring him benefits that can’t be measured in terms of money. There just aren’t any shortcuts to earning characteristics like loyalty, strength, and courage. Good luck, Leo!

A Family Dinner

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

We had a very exciting, beautiful, and delicious dinner with Anne’s father’s family. We had so many people that the restaurant had to prepare two separate rooms for us! The boys ate in one room with all of the people who spoke English while Carol and I ate in the other room with Anne’s parents and the others in their generation. We ate so many dishes that I won’t start to name them all here… I would undoubtedly forget to name something important. Besides, the food was really just a way to provide warmth and friendliness while the family met together. The fact that the food was special and delicious provided a background of generosity and happiness that infused the whole group. Chinese feasts are a tradition that I really love!

The first thing we both noticed about this dinner is that Anne’s Chinese family is similar in many ways to our own families. We have family members with similar personalities, similar relationships, and a similar happy feeling among the family members. Our families also like to have dinner together and enjoy each others\' company.  We were so blessed to be invited to visit with this wonderful family! Although our communication abilities were a little limited, we felt welcome, appreciated, and respected. We tried our best to communicate the same feelings in return, and felt that Anne’s family appreciated our efforts even if we couldn’t say everything that we wanted to. Here\'s a picture of Jacob with two of Anne\'s aunts.

We learned that some family members even prepared for our visit by brushing up on their English! We were very touched by those efforts, and they helped us tremendously. We still can’t say everything we want to, but when people are willing to speak slowly, use easy words, and explain the words we don’t know, we can communicate reasonably well. Anne’s father’s family was willing to help us in those ways, and we were grateful that they made such an effort to accommodate us.

They also accommodated us by not drinking tea during the meal. Several times I heard Anne’s father explain to others that our custom is to not drink alcohol, coffee, tea, or cola drinks. They understood and joined us in following that custom for this meal, even though tea is such a central element of Chinese culture. It\'s a sacrifice that they made to accommodate our different culture, and we\'re grateful. We enjoyed everything about the day.


Archaeological Mystery

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Anne’s family took us to the tomb a Han dynasty ruler. This ruler had tombs carved deep into the stone of a small mountain outside of Xuzhou for himself and his wife.

There were a couple of very interesting things about these tombs. First, the tunnels for entering and leaving the tomb are extremely accurately carved. There’s a laser line shining down the length of the tunnel to prove that the error in the tunnel wall is less than 5 mm. We can test that straightness today, but how did the ancient people create such an accurate straight wall?

Second, Andrew was very interested in the acoustics of the music room inside the tomb. Since the rooms had angled ceilings and grooved walls, they actually diffused the sound very well. There was very little echo and a lot of “late return” sound, so the room sounded bigger than its actual size. We wondered if they did a sound check before declaring the room ready for the ruler\'s music :)  Here is Nick standing in the room next to the music room.  I can\'t remember what the room is for, but you can see the water dripping from the ceiling.  Indiana Jones would have been right at home here!

While we were at the tomb site, we managed to catch both Leo and Anne with their cell phones out.  It was just such a genuine Chinese moment that we had to post it:)  The Chinese people we know are always using their cell phones.  It\'s the best way to stay in touch, do business, and make arrangements before arriving somewhere.  Traveling takes a long time because of the traffic and the size of the cities, so phones are a necessity.

This was a fun and educational adventure. It was different than the Terracotta Warriors, but there are some similarities. This king also wanted to obtain a sort of immortality by being buried with the things he would need in the next life. He left a stone blocking the tomb entrance saying something like, “There’s no gold or silver here, just a few bones and everyday necessities. Please leave it alone.” Today we don’t know whether that inscription was true or whether someone entered the tomb and stole money at some time. But we do know that the king wanted to live forever and prepared for his next life the best way he knew how.

Ancient Tombstones

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Xuzhou is home to a large museum full of ancient tombstones from the Han and West Han dynasties. These tombstones fall into two categories: legendary or mythical things and everyday customs. Some of the \"legendary\" style tombstones show the legend of Fuxi and Nuwa, the half-human, half-snake beings who created the first people and gave them food. Some others showed magical creatures like dragons and qilin. One \"everyday\" tombstone showed the process of capturing, examining, and punishing criminals, while another showed a village preparing to receive official guests.

One of my favorites was a stones that decorated a Han dynasty grave (2500 years ago?) It tombstone was covered with a net pattern, where each intersection in the net is encircled by a ring. I’ve seen that same pattern in Viking artwork from the time of my Norse ancestors. The meaning of this pattern in China is that the net can catch money, so it’s a way to represent a wish for good fortune. I’m not sure if the meaning of that pattern in Viking artwork is similar.

Another ancient tombstone had two intertwined dragons, just like the patterns on some Viking shields and sword hilts. It makes me very curious whether there was some kind of communication between Chinese people and my Viking ancestors! I’ve never heard of that kind of link – the Vikings didn’t exactly live along the Silk Road – but maybe they attacked a country that had been trading with Chinese people? Then they might have seen some of this artwork and been interested in its symbolism. If so, then I’m happy to share some of that fascination with my ancient ancestors.

This is one of Anne\'s cousins at the museum. His name means \"Black Horse\", and he\'s about 5 years old. He\'s very cheerful and active, and we enjoyed getting to know him.

Here\'s a picture of our big group at the Xuzhou tombstone museum.

Before we left Xuzhou, one of Anne’s uncles gave us a very rare gift – a rubbing taken from one of the Han dynasty tombstones! I intend to make the best frame I can and put that artwork in a prominent place in our house. It’s a special gift that deserves very special treatment. It reminds us of China, Anne’s family, and an ancient mystery all at the same time.