Orthodox Easter in China

On May 1, Orthodox Christians around the world celebrated Easter, or Paschal. In Catholicism and Protestantism the date is set according to the Gregorian Calendar, but in the Orthodox faith, it is set according to the Julian Calendar.

Harbin Orthodox Church

In China, this Easter marked the first time in 16 years that an ordained Orthodox priest was able to preside over Easter services, in the city of Harbin, Heilongjiang Province. Here’s how it was reported by the AFP (from The Daily Mail):

His red and gold vestments bathed in candlelight, the first mainland Chinese Orthodox priest ordained for six decades led an Easter service on Sunday — one of the most surprising fruits of warming ties between Moscow and Beijing.

Alexander Yu Shi said prayers in the Church Slavonic language and in Mandarin beside the Church of Holy Protection in the northeastern city of Harbin, surrounded by local worshippers.

“It is a happy day. We are welcoming the resurrection,” he said. “And for the Eastern Orthodox Church in Harbin, it’s also a resurrection.”

The small and elderly Orthodox community -– mostly descended from Chinese and Russians who intermarried in the city’s cosmopolitan heyday a century ago -– lacked a priest for 15 years.

Shi, a soft-spoken former bank manager, is the first ever Chinese to have studied at an Orthodox seminary with backing from China’s avowedly atheist Communist Party.

“With the help of the governments of both countries, I was able to learn theology systematically,” he told AFP in his office, sitting below photographs of himself alongside bearded Russian church luminaries.

Shi, who has Buddhist grandparents, converted while studying business in Moscow in the 1990s. He returned a few years ago to enrol in the St Petersburg theological seminary.

Ordained last year, he led the most important festival in the church’s calendar for the first time.

Shi presided at the altar of a Catholic church opposite his parish since his Holy Protection Church is undergoing state-backed refurbishment.

He led a procession to the scaffolding-clad structure, swinging a thurible of incense and declaring loudly in Chinese: “Christ is risen!”

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Image: AFP

I was excited to read this article, because I immediately recognized the priest. When Amy and I were on a bell-hunting trip to Harbin in the fall of 2012, we visited the small Orthodox Church there. The Chinese man in charge of the church told us that he was the only Chinese person (from Mainland China) studying to become an Orthodox priest. He was also the one who finally allowed us to go up into the tower to see the ancient Russian bell.  You can read all about that in these two blog posts: A Russian Bell in Harbin and Memorial Cookies,

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How wonderful to read that this tiny congregation now has a priest!

He is Risen Indeed! 耶稣基督复活!

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A Russian Bell in Harbin

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Voices from the Past

In a world where we are bombarded daily by voices from our phones, TV’s, and radios, sometimes it’s good to put them all down and listen to some voices from the past. My friend Andrew Kaiser has just published an e-book that allows us to do just that.

Voices from the Past: Historical Reflections on Christian Missions in China is a collection of 30 extended quotations from past missionaries in China.

Voices from the Past: Historical Reflections on Christian Missions in China

Here’s what Andrew has to say about his book in the preface:

Over the years, the words of wisdom contained in the letters and diaries of these spiritual ancestors have profoundly shaped my own sense of purpose and calling, informing my identity and my life and work in China. This booklet is an attempt to share these lessons from history with other expatriates around the world who are committed to building God’s Kingdom in China. The quotations contained herein were chosen for purely subjective reasons, betraying my own struggles and interests. The selections are arranged in no particular order, with only the briefest comments added to provide sufficient context for understanding. Readers are encouraged to linger over each quotation, perhaps reading only one entry a day, and to spend time afterwards in prayer, reflecting on the theme in light of their own experiences.

Whether you are serving in China, thinking about serving in China, or are just interested in a broader historical perspective of the history of Christianity in China, this book is for you!

And here’s the great news — it’s only $0.99 on kindle!

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Eric Liddell, Running the Last Race

One of my all-time favorite movies is Chariots Of Fire, which told the story of Eric Liddell, a Scot who ran in the 1924 Olympic Games, and who later went on to be a missionary in China (where he had been born). Here’s the official trailer for that 1981 film:

(email readers, go here to see the clip)

Now, 35 years later, a sequel to that movie has been made, and it’s been made in China. Starring Joseph Fiennes, and directed by Stephen Chin, a Chinese Christian filmmaker,  The Last Race tells the story of Liddell’s life after the Olympics.

He returned to Tianjin, the city where he had been born, but when the Japanese invaded he, along with the foreign community of North China was sent to a Japanese prison camp in Shandong Province. While in the camp, he taught science to the children and took on a mentoring role for the young people. He died of a brain tumor in the camp before the end of the war.

Doing a movie about a foreign missionary in China wasn’t without it’s challenges. According to The Beijinger, Chin had this to say about those challenges:

“Christianity is a very sensitive subject in China,” Shin told China Film Insider on the sidelines of the Beijing International Film Festival. “Everyone knows that it is not easy to bring that message here. But now, luckily, the censorship is quite reasonable. We are not pushing other people to accept Christianity or promoting any religious message.”

Director Shin said he first heard of Liddell’s story when he was working in Shanghai in 2008 on business related to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, by which time The Last Race script had been written and revised for almost eight years.

”Luckily, two years ago, it got through censorship and we see ‘Okay, it’s good.’ It’s okay to make this movie [starting] last year,” Shin said. ”We want people to come to China to make movies. It is not so strict as we might think. If you can handle the topic in the right way, it should be okay.”

Here’s the trailer for the film:

(email readers, please go here to see the clip)

I don’t know about you, but I’m anxious to see this movie when it is released in June.

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Do You Know Where Your Underwear is Made?

I’m guessing that the answer “somewhere in China” popped into your head when you saw the title of this post. And of course you’d be correct. But which town in China? Can you answer that question?

Last week I ran across a great video, produced by The Economist, that takes a look at Gurao, a town in China that produces much of the world’s underwear.

Here’s the intro:

Next time you buy underwear that’s ‘Made in China’, chances are it has come from a town like Gurao, in south east China. Gurao has been dubbed the ‘town of underwear’. Its factories produce 350m bras and 430m vests and pairs of pants every year. They have made Gurao a prosperous and polluted place. But China’s one-trick industrial towns are also extremely vulnerable to shifting demand.

(email readers, click here to see the video)

Watching that video brought to my mind the third section of Peter Hessler’s wonderful book Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip, in which he introduces us to a man who sets out to make his fortune by producing tiny rings for bra straps!

Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip

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Happy Birthday, Gracie! Here are 9 Things You May Not Know About Her

Yesterday (April 21) may have been the birthday of Queen Elizabeth, but the Queen of our clan is just one year and one day behind her!

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In celebration of her nearing the end of her ninth decade, here are 9 things you may or may not know about her:

  1. She loves road trips. She’s been on road trips across Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Europe, and of course North America. Since I moved back to the States 4 years ago my sister and I have driven her to Alaska, Washington, and Newfoundland, plus many places in between.
  2. She plays the piano at her church.
  3. She volunteers at local senior care centers, playing the piano. They love it when she breaks out the old WW2 tunes!
  4. She leads a senior’s Bible study at a local community center, which means she spends a lot of her time studying.
  5. She is the subject of a short biographical film that is being produced by a local university student.
  6. She loves loves loves Minnesota. When lots of her friends head to Florida or Arizona for the winter, she stays in town to tough out winter!
  7. She drives a bright blue Camry (that she went out and bought for herself last year). When I tell my Chinese friends that she still drives, they nearly collapse in disbelief!
  8. She has a thing about driving large vehicles. One year she got to drive a zamboni; another year a giant John Deere tractor. Her ultimate dream is to drive a snow plow at the Minneapolis airport!
  9. She celebrated her 80th and 85th birthdays in China. She has also made it known that she wants to be there next April to celebrate her 90th. Who’s in?

The rest of you can celebrate Earth Day; around here we are going to celebrate Gracie’s birthday.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

P.S. She claims that the secret to her longevity is that she does not like vegetables!

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Smart Toilet Seats

According to the good folks at Tech in Asia, China’s State Council (somewhat akin to the cabinet in the US government) has called on Chinese tech firms to focus on making better air purifiers, better rice cookers, and better smart toilet seats.

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Smart toilet seats? Really?

Why, you may be wondering, is the Chinese government so concerned about Chinese companies producing high quality smart toilet seats? The author the piece suggests that it’s about nationalism:

Why smart toilet seat development is a national priority is a mystery.

I do have a theory, though: Japan. You may remember that earlier this year during China’s yearly legislative session, rice cookers rather unexpectedly became a point of discussion and a black mark on China’s tech industry: why were Japanese firms still producing better rice cookers than Chinese firms? Several high-profile tech CEOs got in on the action, and Xiaomi released its own rice cooker a month or so later.

Apparently, Japan dominates the smart toilet seat market in a similar way. On Taobao, for example, the top-selling smart toilet seats are mostly Japanese, and many are marketed with an emphasis on their Japanese or otherwise foreign origin. I can’t say whether it’s true as I’ve never personally tried any brand of smart toilet seat – I like my toilets dumb, thank you very much – but Chinese consumers apparently believe that Japan simply makes a better toilet seat than China. This has been an issue of contention for nationalists for over a year already, and it seems the State Council may be firing it up again.

Can’t continue to let the Japanese be ahead, now, can we?

Most of the time when traveling in China, I would have been deliriously happy with simply HAVING a toilet seat — any kind of toilet seat! Dirty? Cracked? Whatever — just give me something to sit on, thank you very much.

Oh, and in case you had no idea before this that smart toilet seats are a thing, check out this list of 9 futuristic toilet seats highlighted over at Gadget Review.

Image credit: Tech in Asia

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Why Do They Ask Me That?

A few weeks back I was talking with a businessman from Germany who was trying to navigate the complexities of life in Minnesota.

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“Why,” he asked me, “do the checkout clerks in stores ask me how my day is going?”

“And when they ask, how should I respond??”

He was completely flummoxed!

I assured him that the question was not being asked out of a genuine desire to know, or in order to elicit an elaborate and detailed response; rather it was merely a greeting, a way of saying “hell0.”

I also told him that the appropriate response to such a question is some variation of “great!,” and that it would be polite for him to follow with some variation of “and you?”

The poor man just shook his head in disbelief, and I then got to introduce him to the concept of “Minnesota Nice.”

Since then I have been thinking and reading about Minnesota Nice. It often gets a bad rap as being simply a fancy term for passive aggression or conflict avoidance.

This video from TPT Rewire gives a fuller explanation:

To my mind, however, a key feature of Minnesota Nice is just being pleasant. And after living for nearly 3 decades where interactions in stores and other service venues ran the gamut from robotic to indifferent to surly, I kind of like the polite banter at the check-out counter. So what if the clerk doesn’t really care how my day is going. Is it wrong to be pleasant?

I’ll take Minnesota Nice over Surly Socialism any day!

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