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Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Magical, Musical Afternoon in Zhongshan Park, Shanghai

It seems like there is magic everyday on my adventure here in Shanghai, magic in the sense of blessings and even little miracles that make me more grateful than ever for the Lord's frequent kindness and help.

This day began with a Skype call to my wife who is momentarily back in the States helping a couple sons with preparations for a wedding and a mission (two different sons--would be a bit awkward if both events were for the same young man) before we both become settled. Plans relating to an important aspect of our adventure became complicated with some bad news from people in the States, and we were struggling with what to do. We decided we needed to turn to the Lord for guidance, and decided to have a prayer together as a couple using Skype. I'm not used to using Skype for prayer, but it was fine. (Sorry, I can't give your the Direct Access number I called--you'll have to ask President Monson for that.) Within 20 seconds after I said "Amen," the phone rang. It was an LDS couple calling about the topic of our concern, offering a possible solution. We'll see, but it seemed so kind.

As I prepared for the day, I packed a backpack with some items such as my journal, some Chinese language materials to study, a notepad, etc., and planned to go hang out in Shanghai's famous Zhongshan Park after church to see the area and be productive. Well, as usual, I never go to any of the big things on my list, but the decision to go to Zhongshan Park turned out so well--what a blessing that was.

After a great day at church (hurray-I understood more of the Chinese language Sunday School and Elders Quorum meetings I attended and really enjoyed the lessons today), I started walking back to the subway. Some of the younger members of the ward were in a group in front of me. I heard them mention Zhongshan Park. Hey, that's where I'm going. Mind if I follow? I hadn't checked the map to determine which subway stop was best, though I'd been near it before and knew it was on Line 2. Turns out the right stop is conveniently called Zhongshan Park, so it's hard to miss. But because of the decision to go to Zhongshan Park, I ended up hanging out with a great group of LDS people, about 15 of them, and got invited to come over to a brother's home with the group for dinner. I spent about 3 hours with this group and enjoyed their company immensely.

The Shanghai Branch has such amazing people from so many walks of life, some here for years and other just visiting. From IBM executives to mixed martial arts cage fighters (our awesome Gospel Doctrine teacher, one of the coolest people ever with numerous talents, really loved by other members of the ward), we've got it all. Today alone I chatted with people from the Ivory Coast, France, Singapore, the Philippines, Australia, Britain, Taiwan, Germany, Hong Kong and more. What a ward!

Dinner was simple but so delicious. Good pasta, great spaghetti sauce loaded with fresh garlic, good bread, Parmesan cheese--even with all the wonders of Chinese cuisine, sometimes the great comfort foods of the West are hard to beat. The conversation was so lively. I'm really impressed with the young people I talked with. One was a new couple who just flew in the night before, a couple that had both served in Taiwan as missionaries and knew my Taiwanese missionary son from the MTC, where the wife was his teacher. Another young person I chatted with was a bright mind who has been exploring LDS history and other LDS issues in depth, in addition to Chinese and his main field of study. Very refreshing to talk to him. Others were sharing important thoughts and knowledge on issues of culture, history, science, travel, etc. So many bright, promising people, so kind and warm. They and the rising generation of Chinese people I am coming to know give me hope for the future.

After a joyous afternoon with that group of members, I went into Zhongshang Park as planned, thinking I'd find spot to site and write or study--after, of course, wandering and taking photos. There was uplifting music playing as I entered the crowded park. I scanned the faces of the people I am coming to love and respect and just felt so touched to be there with them, so proud of the good that I see in them and so honored to be here with them in their beautiful land of infinite potential. I heard some great drumming and went over to watch--I think it was an impromptu gathering of people just getting together to drum. How nicely it turned out.

Then I went a little further and marveled at the kite masters who were controlling large kites several hundred yards above the park. The art of kite flying is so advanced in China. The masters have special large reels and lots skill, and amaze me with the ability to have a high density of kites flying without collisions and tangled lines.

Then I turned a corner and had one of those magical moments that make a day unforgettable. A small crowd was gathered around an older man who was playing a harmonica with an electronic sound pickup to amplify his music. Wow, this was a master of the harmonica. One thing I recall from my first visit to China in 1987 is that one easy way of respecting and even helping the local people is to show appreciation and interest in their performances. I remember that by stopping to admire a child street performer as he did magic tricks in Chongqing, his tiny audience became huge by virtue of the seal of approval that my in interest somehow gave. Then giving him a nice tip helped motivate others to contribute, as I recall. Would the same thing play out here? Not quite, but the results were even better.

As the musician played with harmonica with great expressiveness, I snapped a couple photos but then, out of respect, put the camera down and just admired the music. I clapped and shouted out a few words of praise in Chinese. To my surprise, I soon became the focus of a rapidly gathering group. The man said he would dedicate his next song to me. Like many Chinese, he had this almost psychic ability to just look at me and somehow know that I am an American. Then he began playing a version of "Jingle Bells," the famous Christmas song. Then he played the song "Do-Re-Mi" from the Sound of Music, and then Auld Lang Syne. It was awesome. I then pondered what to do next, not wanting to embarrass him or cause any problem, but anxious to be helpful in some way. I looked for an open case, hat, bucket, or something where people could toss money. Unlike a previous street performer at the park, there was none of that. So when he appeared to have wrapped up, I walked over and discreetly tried to give him what I described as just a small gift to say thanks. Ooops, wrong thing! No, no, no, he insisted. This suddenly created a lot of interest and the crowd moved in close to catch the action. I explained more fully that I had been so touched by his music and was just trying to say thanks. Others chimed in and explained that more eloquently, but he responded with a big smile that if his music had made me happy, that was all the return he needed. What a classy guy.

With my bad Chinese, I said that good people like him were one of the reasons that I think China is such a great nation. That went over really well - some applause and vocal approval. I then pulled out a notebook and asked him to write his name. A friend of his asked for mine and I gave him my business card, and soon a lot of people were asking for my business card, and there was discussion about my work and where I'm from. Salt Lake City originally, and they had heard of it and Utah. And then his friend brought up John Huntsman, a pretty famous name over here. Cool!

One of the people kindly took a photograph of me and the master of the harmonica, Mr. Li, a wizard of Zhongshan Park who helped me have one of my most magical Sunday afternoons ever. When it was time to part, I was shaking hands and saying good-bye to many people and felt like I have new friends I can look forward to meeting again. I think I'll be back to Zhongshan Park, a magical place. I definitely need to get back, for I never even got started on all the writing and study I need to do there (or somewhere).



The shrubs here spell "Zhong Shank Gong Yuan" = Zhongshan Park.

3 comments:

Michemily said...

Great story!

Bookslinger said...

Jeff, you look like you've lost weight. I hope all that good food can put some pounds back on you. May you find time to jog and lift weights to build yourself back up.

Michaela Stephens said...

What a neat story! I love that you are trying so hard to be polite and courteous.