Friday Photo: St. Paul’s Church

One of the bells I write about in my book, The Bells Are Not Silent: Stories of Church Bells in China hangs in the bell tower of this old Lutheran church in Qingdao.


Here’s how the chapter opens:

Amy and I slipped quietly into the pew at the old St. Paul’s Church in Qingdao, now known simply as Guanxiang Road Christian Church. An usher, who for some reason was dressed in a gleaming white suit that seemed more suitable for a night out in Las Vegas than a Chinese church, spotted us, smiled, and came over to where we were sitting.

Uh-oh, I thought. He’s going to ask us to leave.

Guess you’ll have to get the book to learn the rest of the story!


The “Face-kini” is Back!

It’s summer in China, which means thousands upon thousands of people are descending on the beaches in Qingdao (and other places). But here’s the thing — being on the beach means being out in the sun which means the potential for darkening skin which is considered a bad thing by Chinese women.

Have no fear, the “face-kini” is here!




This year, though, it seems like the fashion trend is jumping the Great Wall and heading out into the world. Here’s what The Telegraph has to say about it:

The facekini looks more like a balaclava than essential beachwear. But in China, that’s exactly what it has become.

Beachgoers in the eastern city of Qingdao have been sporting facekinis to protect their faces from the sun, and even jellyfish. The swimming gear is made of stretchy, swimsuit like material and covers the entire head. Holes are cut for the eyes, nose and mouth (well, you’ve got to be able to eat that sandy sandwich somehow).

But now it looks like the facekini – which also looks a bit like a Mexican wrestling mask – could become a global fashion item, with one New York-based fashion magazine, CR Fashion Book, featuring it in a photo shoot.

The images show models wearing patterned facekinis, accessorised with swimsuits, jewellery and heels, in a feature called “Masking in the sun: A hidden retreat in this season’s swimwear.”

Now here’s something really scary — they are now being sold on Amazon!

Photos: BBC

Related Posts: 

Swimming Masks

The Masked Swimmers of Qingdao Strike Again



Summer in Qingdao

It’s July, which means it’s time for the annual spate of wacky stories from the beaches of Qingdao, Shandong Province.

Last year, the story that got all the buzz was the popularity of full body masks that women were wearing to keep the sun off of their skin. I don’t know about you, but I had nightmares for weeks after looking at those photos.

A woman, wearing a nylon mask, smiles as she rests on the shore during her visit to a beach in Qingdao

This week the big story is the algae bloom that has turned the water along Qingdao’s famous beaches bright green. Once again, these photos published by the Wall Street Journal may induce nightmares.


As we say in Minnesota, “ISH!”

Passengers on the “St. Paul”

As those of you who have been following this blog for awhile know, one of the unexpected discoveries of my trip across Sichuan with Noel Piper in March, was the existence of two airplanes, the St. Paul and the St. Peter, which were used by the Lutheran World Federation to transport missionaries around China in the 1940’s. I wrote about these planes in a post titled “The Flying Lutherans.”

While I was in Minnesota this summer, I had the chance to meet with a woman who had been a missionary in China in the late1940’s and who had flown on the St. Paul. As you can imagine, I wanted to get her story. This is how she told it to me:


Our ship, the “Marine Lynx” deposited us all in Shanghai. My husband and I didn’t know a soul in that dark, complicated, crowded and unknown Chinese city. Our supervisor up in Qingdao had sent word by telegram that he had not been able to finalize arrangements for our arrival, that we were on our own, but “in God’s hands,” of course. Not having access to the instant communication that we have today, you can imagine what a helpless feeling it was to receive such news.

Some of our fellow passengers from the ship made arrangements for us to stay with their co-workers in Shanghai while we awaited our luggage to be off-loaded from the ship and cleared through customs. Every day for a week my husband, along with the other passengers, would go down to the harbor to try to locate our luggage in the area known as the “go-down.”

There are two things I remember about our time in Shanghai.  One was the bitter cold. My toes began to swell and hurt and I even developed ‘chilblains,’ something I had never experienced before.

The other thing I remember was the hospitality of the people who took us in. Even though we were in a foreign country, we were together with brothers and sisters. In the evenings we had lively times of singing, and they fed us better than we could have ever dreamed.

Once we secured our luggage from the ‘go-down,’ the next question was how to get to Qingdao, our planned destination? My husband learned that the Lutherans owned 2 small planes named the St. Paul and the St. Peter, which transported people around the country.

One of the planes (the St. Peter?) had actually crashed the week before while trying to land in Qingdao, a city on the coast surrounded by mountains. Everyone on board perished. Unbeknownst to us, my parents and friends in Minnesota had heard about this crash and assumed that we had been on board. Some friends even said, “well, it is too late to pray for them; now we need to pray for their parents.”

But we were safe.

We finally made it onto the St. Paul, along with 2 other families and flew north together marveling at the wonderful friendships and shared experiences that God had blessed us with.


flying lutherans


Image source:

The Masked Swimmers of Qingdao Strike Again!

I can hear the editors in newsrooms all over the world this summer barking orders to their China-based correspondents:  “GRAB YOUR CAMERA AND GET TO THE BEACHES IN QINGDAO. WE NEED A STORY ON THE SWIMMERS WEARING NYLON FACE MASKS. NOW!”

There may indeed be other news-worthy events in China this summer — a certain trial of the wife of a certain former official; a certain meeting of officials at another beach (I wonder if they are wearing these as well — but these masked figures on the beaches of Qingdao seem to have become the story of the summer for much of the western press here.

The Daily Mail struck yesterday with this article and photo spread:

One way to avoid the dangerous rays of the sun is to stay indoors, another is to apply a healthy layer of sun cream and slap on a wide-brimmed hat.

If you’re in China, however, there is a third option – a ‘Face-Kini’ complete with a body suit.

The name describes a protective head mask that is being used in Shandong province’s East China Sea coast by beach-goers who want to protect their skin from the sun.

It’s probably best not to view these just before going to bed.

I joined the fray and wrote about them in July in a post titled Swimming Masks.

One commenter wrote asking where they could be purchased. This Daily Mail article notes a price for the masks, so I’m guessing that they are being sold in the shops and stalls that line the beaches in Qingdao.


The Bells of St. Paul’s Church

As Amy and I slipped quietly into the church pew at the old St. Paul’s Church in Qingdao (now known simply as Guanxiang Road Church) one of the ushers spotted us, smiled, and came over to where we sat. “Aren’t you the two ladies who were here yesterday asking about the old church bell?” he asked, through a big smile.  “Yes,” we replied. “Come with me,” he said, “I’ll ask someone to take you up into the tower to see the old bell right now.”

We looked at each other in bewilderment because the previous afternoon when we had stopped by the church to inquire about the bell, this very man had treated us with suspicion (wouldn’t you?) and told us that if we wanted to know anything about the church we had to first go through the municipal church office. Yet here he was, all smiles and donning the role of Mr. Welcome!

We suggested that we would be happy to wait until after the service but he was insistent that we follow him now.  He introduced us to another usher and told her “these American friends are here to learn about our church and our bell.  Please take them to see the bell.” Up we went, our dashed hopes of yesterday being rekindled with every step we climbed.

I actually hadn’t known about this church until Mr. D., usher/tour-guide at the other church down the street (Qingdao Christian Church) told us about it on Saturday.  “You should go up the street to St. Paul’s Church,” he said.  “They have an old bell.” After we were turned away on our first visit, I decided to go back and find Mr. D. and see what he could tell me about St. Paul’s Church and its bell.

He told me that the church had been built in 1938 by German Lutherans and most likely the bell was installed at that time, or shortly afterwards. I specifically asked if he knew what had happened to the bell during the Cultural Revolution.  He told me that it had been taken away and installed in a factory in another city in the province where it was used to mark the beginnings and endings of the shifts. Someone from Qingdao recognized the bell and somehow spirited it away and hid it. (How do you steal and hide a cast iron bell?)  Somehow the bell resurfaced in the last few years (I missed the details), and just last year the church purchased the bell back at an auction for the sum of RMB 40,000.

The inscriptions on the bell were written in German, which we couldn’t read, but we could make out the date: 1883. I took photos of the inscriptions and sent them to a friend of mine who is an amateur genealogist. In order to trace his family history he has learned how to read German and Danish.  Within ten minutes, he had them translated:

 Bochumer Verein Gussstahlfabrik 

(Bochumer Union Cast Steel Factory)

Der Gerechte Wird Seines Glaubens Leben 

(The just[righteous] will live by [his] faith)  (Romans)


After taking a few pictures we went back to the sanctuary for the service. At 9:25, the bells were rung, each ring announcing the truth of the inscription.

Another bell, another story of sustaining grace.

(Note:  the bell at the other church has a story as well, but that will be in yet another post.)