Mr. Upham and the Bell

In my post from a couple of weeks ago titled A Tale of Two Bells, I wrote about finding 2 old bells hanging in church steeples in southern Sichuan Province. Both were cast in Cincinnatti, OH, and both are still being used in what were Baptist churches before 1949.

As I mentioned in that post, the inscription on one of the bells read:  “Buckeye Bell Foundry, 1886.”  The rest of the inscription read:  “First Baptist Church, Coffeyville, Kansas. Presented by W.S. Upham 1886. Praise Ye the Lord.”

Among the numerous questions that Noel and I pondered was who in the world was W.S. Upham?

A commenter on Noel’s blog Tell Me When to Pack did some poking around on the internet and turned up a link to a digitized version of the book History of the State of Kansas, by William G. Cultler. Part 11 of the book is a list of biographical sketches of notable persons in Montgomery County, where Coffeyville is located.

Here is what is written about a W.S. Upham:

W. S. UPHAM merchant, was born in the Cherokee Nation, April 13, 1845, his father, Rev. Willard P. Upham, coming among those Indians as a missionary in 1841. W. S. Upham went to San Francisco in December, 1865, and was engaged in the mercantile business there for seven years. He had spent one year in Boston, and one year at school in Vermont prior to going to California. He was married in San Francisco, May 15, 1873, to Emma A. Morgan, a native of Cleveland, Ohio. They have three children – Willard M., Maggie May, and George Newhall, the latter was named for his uncle, George Newhall, a prominent wholesale merchant of San Francisco. Mr. Upham is a member of the First Baptist Church, of San Francisco. He came to Coffeyville in the spring of 1873, where he has built up a large business, in addition to merchandising, dealing in grain, hides, furs, etc.

Given that he was a member of the First Baptist Church in San Francisco before moving to Coffeyville, it is reasonable to assume that the First Baptist Church in Coffeyville became his church home when he moved there.

Now…..why did he give the bell to the church, and when (and why) did they ship it to China?

Stay tuned…….

Please Give me a Test

On Sunday afternoon last week, we went with some friends to to Jinli Street in Chengdu, an old, yet newly gentrified part of the city that supposedly dates to the Qin Dynasty (220 BC). We had 2 purposes for going there.  One was to see the street itself, with its teashops and Chengdu snacks and various arts and crafts.

Our other reason for going there was find take the family that had been our kind hosts in Chengdu out for ice-cream at the Dairy Queen.

As we were making our way through the crowds towards the DQ, we were accosted by these two young fellows and their teacher. She had a piece of paper with English questions written on it, and asked us if we’d quiz the kids by asking them the questions. Noel and I grabbed our cameras, leaving Mrs. P. to do the quizzing (hey….she’s a school teacher by trade).

Upon reading each question, the two guys answered them in unison at the top of their lungs, naturally drawing a crowd…..

What is your name? MY NAME IS…..

How old are you?  I AM…..

What day is it today?  TODAY IS SUNDAY!

What is your favorite color? MY FAVORITE COLOR IS…

After Mrs. P. had read all of the questions on the sheet of paper, the boys’ tutor thanked her, and off they went to find some other unsuspecting foreigner.



So Long, Esther (for now)

It’s hard to believe that we have come to the last day of our Esther Expedition. Our journey yesterday down from Wuhan to Guangzhou to Shenzhen to Hong Kong went like clockwork, with each successive train we were on moving more slowly.

We collapsed in our hotel rooms at 4, only to rally (after eating something) at 5 for a trip to the top of Victoria Peak. We have a few things to see today, then I will leave for Beijing this evening. This time tomorrow morning Noel will be on her way to Tokyo, then home to her family in Minneapolis.

I was going to write a ‘final thoughts’ post, but I realize that there are still so many untold stories. Also, every time I try to write something, I get too emotional.  So for now, please read Noel’s thoughts upon arriving in Hong Kong yesterday.

Until I can pull some more coherant thoughts together, I’ll express some words of thanks.

Thanks to those of you who helped us along the way. You bought tickets for us, gave us walking tours, translated, opened your homes, booked hotels, drove us to/from airport, drove us up/over mountains, told us stories, climbed steeples with us, made scones for train journeys.  You are all angels and you know who you are!

To those of you who followed our adventures on our blogs, thanks for joining us.

And of course, a special thanks to Noel for asking me to join you on this journey, for trusting me to pull it off, and for being such a GREAT and unflappable travel companion. If you ever want to do another expedition, just tell me when to pack!

Three Days, Three Cities

Noel and I are sprinting to the finish line of our Esther Expedition, which ends in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Today we flew from Chengdu to Wuhan. On Tuesdaywe take the bullet train from Wuhan to Guangzhou, then another train to the border the Hong Kong border in Shenzhen. We will cross the bridge into Hong Kong, then board the light rail to Kowloon.

The reason we are doing such a circuitous route from Chengdu to Hong Kong is to follow the route of Esther’s final departure from China in May of 1951. Even though the People’s Republic of China had been established in October of 1949, many of the missionaries working in China at the time had been allowed to remain. By the spring of 1951, however, with the new government consolidating its control over the country and fighting between China and the US on the Korean peninsula, the local officials in Huili, Sichuan gave the final order for the foreigners in the city to leave within 48 hours.

Esther Nelson, along with another single woman and 2 families, set out from Huili, bound for Chengdu. Unlike our journey along that route 2 weeks ago, which was by car and train, their party made the journey on foot. Walking over numerous mountain passes and through towns and cities where they were viewed with suspicion, it took them almost three weeks to reach Ya’an. Added to the trauma of the departure and journey itself, when they reached the town of Hanyuan, one of the wives contracted meningitis and died, leaving behind her husband and 4 children, including a 6 month-old baby. They had to leave money with the Catholic mission where they were staying for a quiet burial, then continue on their way, with Esther taking care of the baby.

When the party reached Chengdu, it was decided that the now-motherless family and Esther would fly to Wuhan (as opposed to taking a slow boat), then take the train to Guangzhou and on to the Hong Kong border, which they crossed on foot. At the time, Hong Kong was really the only way in/out of China.

It is that route that we are tracing this week, although instead of a 36 hour train ride tomorrow, ours will take only 5 hours.

In the second week of our trip, we travelled by car and train along part of the route that she and the others trekked between Huili and Hanyuan. We had hoped to stop in Hanyuan and look for a grave or some kind of marker for the woman who died, but Mr. B, our friend and guide had contacted the priest at the Catholic Church there now and found out that the entire old city was flooded a few years back when a dam was built on the river below the town. There would be nothing to find or see, so we decided not to stop there.

Here are a couple of pictures of the area between Huili and Hanyuan which we got to pass through in relative luxury on the train. It seemed incomprehensible to us that Esther and the others had made this same journey on foot.
















Note: An excellent account of this journey out can be found in Ralph Covell’s book “Mission Impossible: The Unreached Nosu on China’s Frontier.”

And don’t forget to check out Noel’s recent posts:

I Feel Someone’s Eyes on Me

Children and Dogs

Cloth or Disposable or…?

Airport Entertainment

What is she wearing anyway?


Last Mao Standing


There was a time when statues of Mao were ubiquitous, found on every college and factory campus, every government building, and every public square. In most cities they have disappeared from view, and only on occasion can one be spotted tucked away. There are only a few cities where he is still visible in public spaces.

Chengdu is one of those cites — Mao can be found presiding over Tianfu Square; and like locals in other cities where Mao still stands, the locals simply joke that he is trying to hail a cab.




































The School on the Hill

On a small hill in the middle of the city of Ya’an stands an old school building that was built by Baptist missionaries in the early 1900’s. On park grounds today, it is no longer in use.

One sign on the building indicates that it was most recently the office of the local park administration. A peek into the broken windows and locked doors almost gives the sense of sudden abandonment.

Another sign high above the portico  says  that it is (was) the Ming De (Bright Morality) Middle School.

One of the things that we have learned on this research trip is that all of the schools that were started by the Baptists were named Ming De, and all of the hospitals were named Ren De (Benevolent Morality).  So when we saw the Ming De sign on the building and on the nearby stone designating the building as a Provinciall Cultural Protected Site, we knew that it was the school we were looking for.

Although Esther did not work directly at this school, we imagine that she would have come up here from time to time.

















“F-word” of the Week

As you may be aware, the Chinese government has a love/hate relationship with the internet. It is  necessary for the country to be a full participant in the global economy, but it has also given Chinese citizens an outlet to vent frustrations and poke fun at those in power. It is the closest thing that  China has to a ‘public square.’

No place is this ‘public square’ feature of the Chinese internet more visible than on “weibo” (micro-blog), the Chinese Twitter-like platforms that are so popular here. In recent months, the government has tried to rein in the free-wheeling nature of speech on the microblogs by instituting requirements for real-name registration and by requiring the microblog services to enforce bans on certain words that the government deems ‘sensitive.

Of course there is a long list of words that are permanantly sensitive; these are mostly political in nature. Other words wander on and off the list, according to the current political environment or the current affairs of the moment. Censors will also ‘ban’ certain words or phrases when they deem discussion of a current hot topic to be getting out of hand, and thus reflecting badly on the leadership or getting to the point where it feels social stability is threatened.

Interestingly, the word that got banned on weibo this week was “Ferarri,” as in that super expensive and fast car. Here’s the story as reported by the BBC:

Information about a Ferrari car crash that killed a man in China, as well as the word “Ferrari”, appear to have been deleted from websites, state media report.

The incident happened on Sunday in Beijing’s Haidian district, says the Beijing Evening News paper. Reports say two female passengers were injured.

The apparent censorship has raised questions about the driver’s identity.

It comes after new rules for Beijing microbloggers took effect on Friday.

Based on photos posted online, the black car was “ripped in half”, with “the engine in flames”, the Global Times newspaper says.

The newspaper also quoted an official as saying that one of the female passengers sustained “a head injury and a fractured leg”, but no information about the other passenger was provided.

Searches about the accident and the word “Ferrari” were deleted from Chinese microblog sites like Sina Weibo and web portals, media report.

“Ferrari crash information hushed up,” read the Global Times headline.

“Almost all online information” about the crash had been “deleted overnight, triggering suspicions as to the identity of the deceased driver,” the paper went on to say.

It said Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, “deleted all microblog posts which mentioned the accident, and blocked online searches of the word ‘Ferrari'”. News reports about the crash were deleted from many other web portals, the paper said.

What is so interesting about this story is the fact that it was The Global Times, a government-run newspaper that broke the story of the censorship!

Wait….what?  I’m confused!!!

(Image Source: The Telegraph)