Friday, December 14, 2007

If It's Friday, This Must Be Beijing

For our last evening in Guangzhou on Wednesday most of the families wanted to get together for dinner, babies included. We decided on Italian (not Pizza Hut, my dears) because it usually has something for everyone. My daughter sat on my lap and fed me salad and pasta. We shared these dishes with great mutual delight. Mark thought his tomato juice was a bit strange until we each took a cursory taste and found that it was made from - yep, you guessed it - fresh tomatoes, not canned. Shazam -how delicious! Mark also asked for chopsticks and got laughed at by the nice Chinese waitstaff at this fine Italian establishment.

Next morning we left the hotel at 7am with another family (from Wichita), escorted to the airport by CHI's fabulous Elsie. Mark & I had bought an extra suitcase on the trip, as had most of the other families. It was our only bag that was a whopping 2 kilos overweight and the nice airline staff didn't even blink. Bless 'em - and we have since re-strategized the packing so that won't happen when we leave China). When we arrived in Beijing we were met by Lina from CHI and of course Tang the wonderful van driver. CHI, if you're reading this, which I hope you are, our family wants you to know that every one of your "family" have been absolutely terrific to us from day one. Thanks to you, we have felt completely cared-for these past two weeks and change. And yes, I'm naming names: Sabrina, Elsie, Melody, Dennis, Tang, Lina, Chloe, Jessie and Simon.

Beijing's cold weather was a welcome relief to us after nearly two weeks of off-season (to us) temperatures. We had every intention of settling in quickly at the hotel and then doing a little sightseeing, but somebody said she was hungry. So we went to lunch, and that person (who shall go nameless) decided she didn't want to eat anything, just before she fell asleep in her soup. The lovely dining staff allowed us to literally carry all of her still-full dishes and glasses upstairs to our room so she could have a nap (which she didn't take) and eat later (which she finally did). So Thursday turned into day of rest, packing for the trip home, and making plans for Friday.

Our last full day in China was chock-full of adventure. We are near the end of our tour but other CHI families at the hotel are just beginning theirs. At breakfast we met a mother-to-be from Chicago who is set to fly to Nanjing to meet her daughter tomorrow. We wished her well, told her that we know she is going to have an amazing experience, and exchanged hugs. How much we have in common even though we just met for few minutes!

Then we met Jason and Theresa from Kansas City, along with Chloe and Tang who were ready to take us to the Great Wall. I go straight into cocker spaniel mode whenever I get into a van or a cab here. It doesn't matter where we're going or what route we take (I have no sense of direction here anyway); I enjoy every moment of the trip and hang on every inch of every block to watch people, signs and sights. As a result I was the first to spot part of the Wall as soon as it became visible from the van. Hee-heeeeee! And we climbed a decent part of it, by golly.

Got back to the hotel for a couple hours' rest and this time ventured out alone as a family. Next stop: The Forbidden City. The cab let us out at the east entrance,

but you actually have to enter at the south entrance, so we began a lovely half-mile walk at the edge of the river / lake bordering the City.

Of course countless mini-cabs, scooter cabs and map sellers descended on us at this point (I think they have a deal going with the cabbies) and all of the "Bu-xie-xie" (no thank you) in the world couldn't keep them from following us for nearly a third of our journey. Finally one intrepid fellow said, "You need tour guide?" "Bu-xie-xie" we responded. He asked, "Who is your guide?" I indicated our daughter, asleep on her Ba-ba's shoulder, and said, "SHE is."

We didn't actually go inside to see treasures and thrones and things because it was nearly closing time, but we did get inside the gates.

After awhile we joined the exit procession and came out onto Tien An Men Square.

'Twas extremely crowded, and everyone wanted to get a glimpse of the changing of the guard / retirement of the colors. But we were swept afar by those in command, so it was time to walk. Our route took us eastward next to the Forbidden City Walls, and after half an hour we came to a charming little oasis of a restaurant inside the actual city, where we were tended to as if we were little lost children. For the life of me I don't know the name of the place, because it was the only thing on the menu that wasn't transliterated, but I brought home some matches and so will ask folks in the know just where it was we had dinner.

Our kind hosts caught us a cab, and our next stop was, finally, to get to Shabbat services. Kehillat Beijing is a small Reconstructionist congregation located in what's actually the Capitol Club Athletic Center. When we arrived, I joked that I knew we had arrived at shul by all the Christmas trees in the lobby. The third-floor auditorium was our ultimate venue.

About 30 people of all ages, from all over the world, made up the lay-led congregation, and Maya, our sh'lichat tzibbur (service leader) made us very welcome indeed. In fact, she invited our family to lead the candle blessing and Mark to lead Kiddush.

Let me point out here that this was not Xiao-Ling's first time in a synogogue. Her foster family is also Jewish, and two years ago she attended High Holy Day services in California. This was just the first time she had taken her parents to shul and we were quite pleased to be escorted by such lovely company who was obviously used to the surroundings.

In fact she felt so at home that she followed along in the prayerbook, flirted with Barry who sat next to us, and stood next to Maya with a book for much of the service. She did not horse around once (Harry, are you reading this??).

Barry gave a great d'var Torah on the weekly portion, VaYigash. This is the point in Joseph's story where he reunites with his brothers. Twenty-two years after they tried to kill him and then sold him into slavery, Joseph is now viceroy of Egypt and his brothers do not recognize him. It's easy to take the soft road into interpreting this family's reunion of forgiveness, but Barry made a good case for Joseph's continued anger against his family, which is why he sets such harsh boundaries for giving them food in time of famine. In the past two decades and change, Joseph has used separation to solve family problems, at least for the time being; a method heretofore successful in avoiding conflict [bloodshed?] between Abraham and Lot; Isaac and Ishmael; Jacob and Esau.

Two thoughts occurred as I listened: Robert Frost's great quote, "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors," and our trip to the Great Wall that morning. This world's biggest physical boundary represents safety, protection, exclusion, embrace and countless other images. I reflected that only when we raise a fence, when we reduce to simplest terms that which we can and cannot do without, when we acknowledge who and what we are within these self-set boundaries, can we open a door in this fence to allow other elements back in. Barry ended on a slightly deceptive cadence; he concluded that ultimately separation was not what Joseph and his family needed. I disagree because only when Joseph had time to rebuild his torn life as best he could (and with God's help) could he move on to forgive his brothers. Unfortunately, sometimes this takes many, many years.

Some words and deeds are unforgivable. Few would disagree that attempted murder and human trafficking fall into that category. Current events continue to provide further examples. Embarrassing another person in public is among the worst. But if we cannot find forgiveness for any other reason, we must do so for our own personal healing and well-being. Forgiveness doesn't mean going back to the relationship's original dance, but should bring about a new normal. I've long subscribed to Bette Midler's film company, All-Girl Productions' motto ("We Hold a Grudge"). But if we refuse to build doors of re-entry into the Great Wall or the Good Fence that surrounds our souls, how can we heal from life's inevitable hurts? We could never be ready for life's joys or worse yet, even see them coming. I could never fully treasure the most holy gifts God has given me: Mark, Harry and Xiao-Ling. And I do mean to treasure them.

So yes, walls and fences are necessary. Don't be quick to tear them down or to subscribe to anyone else's timeline of your own refuge within. But don't forget the doors and windows that let in the sun, the wind, the tears of rain, and a view of the goodness that lies ahead.

Barry is an expert on fence-building and -mending. He mediates between U.S. and Chinese teams to facilitate matters of international infrastructure. I'm so grateful for his teaching; it really made my Shabbat.

We stayed at the Oneg Shabbat for hours. There were so many fascinating people including a five-day-old couple still in early blush, and a translator for Chinese sports teams who is the only Jew living on Hainan Island (boy, did we bond over Hainan!) and who may be covering the Olympics next summer. Marian's Mandarin is extensive; she's taken many immersion courses in writing and speaking the language (she even texts in it!) and gave Xiao-Ling a lecture on manners that stopped our daughter cold after she grabbed food from my plate. Here is a photo of Marian and our daughter:

At last we poured our weary selves into the last cab of the day and headed back to the hotel. We were all exhausted but wouldn't have traded the day for anything. And now (I can't say "tomorrow" because I waited until "today" to post) we're ready for a bit of relaxation before the van comes to take us to the airport at 2:30. Every particle of our trip to China has been fabulous. Sabrina just called. She's back from her vacation to Hunan (her home province) and misses us very much, as we do her. I hope she'll come to the States for a visit, because we are ready to receive her!

And now, it's time to look forward to all the good things that await us at home. Hugs from Harry, cuddles from the cats, tucking our little girl into her new pink bedroom, settling in as a family of four, and seeing the joy our daughter will kindle in everyone. Shalom Beijing!

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