We just finished two weeks of rest together at home with no work, and no school, thanks to the Chinese New Year holiday that takes over the land. For many foreigners living in China, this holiday means jetting somewhere warm and far away from the cold, the billions-of-people-trying-to-get-back-to their families-migration, and the shut down of stores and conveniences all over the country. We dream of maybe doing something warm and wonderful someday too... but for the last 7 years, we have stayed put, and it has been one of the best building blocks of a life loved here in China. Here's why:
1. We have built traditions, built because they are not natural to us or our heritage, but over time spent in country and with our Chinese friends, they have become a special time of the year for us. Making jiaozi is a Chinese New Year family tradition and we love to get together with friends to master the art of securing little meat filled dumplings and then cooking them together for a grand feast. Our entire family adores this meal and we like to keep track of who has the best jiaozi making skills.
2. It's a unique time to spend with our local friends, meeting their families and being invited into their lives. We get to see them in their element, learn about their family dynamics- the good and the bad, the unique strengths and burdensome pressures.
This is my friend and her grandma. She loves to tell stories about the old days. Her life spans 7 children, and a history in China unlike any other generation.
3. Our children get to see and practice the art of seeing a whole different way of living.
We were brought with our friend's family to visit a local Buddhist temple. For our hosts it was more about social prestige (in knowing the head monk) and cultural affiliation. For us, it was deeply spiritual as we felt the weight of the beliefs so sunk in the hearts and minds of the place and people who were there. I prayed much of the time I was there. I grieved for anyone bound to a life where hope is tied to a god that is approached through karma and spells, through incense and offerings, none of which you can be sure are heard, or that even if they are heard are not offset by something done in your past life. I sat with the monk, and asked about his life, and the meaning of the bracelet he gave me. He does not like his life. I told him who I know, and that with Him there is a relationship that is real. I left feeling heavy with all those unheard prayers, and the man's life who for all its sacrifice can earn him nothing. I know a Man who lived the sacrifice for you! I still think of that monk.
4. We get to travel in the People's Way. At least I like to call it that. We love to take trains in China. It's an experience, and a good one. It's slow, and crowded, and full of interesting, regular old people of every shape and color of life. Our girl always, always finds some kind of friend she can talk to. And for a few dollars we get to experience the "thrill" of going somewhere, of window gazing, and of building our own store of family memories made of moments that can only happen on a slow train in China.