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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Something's Brewing in China

My wife was away with some Relief Society women tonight so I was in no hurry to get home. I skipped my quick subway route (just one stop) and instead meandered along a longer path, going from Shanghai's Bund where I work up to Nanjing Street and then People's Square, then over to elegant Xin Tian Di, past a couple of parks, and then dropped by the booth of a struggling friend and chatted as he closed up shop at the famous but decaying Dong Tai Antiques Market, and then strolled two more blocks to my little apartment with one of the best views in China. As I approached the mix of modern buildings and old city that defines my endlessly lovable and sometimes troubling neighborhood, my heart lept as I encountered a scene that I just adore. In fact, not once, but three times, with three different groups all doing it differently. That's when I realized what I love most about China.

When I first came here, I thought what I love most was "the culture," or the food, or the language, or the scenery, or "the people." But "the people" is far too vague a concept. Yes, it's the people, but there's one aspect of "the people" and their culture that just elates me each time I encounter it, and tonight I got three doses in rapid succession. What I love most about China is . . . the dancing! At night in all sorts of unexpected public places, one can encounter groups of people, sometimes all women, sometimes men and women, sometimes old, sometimes middle-aged or younger, gathering where there is some vacant pavement or cement or tiled ground with a cheap boom box cranking out a tune so the group can dance. Many times the group appears to be doing a complicated line dance with lots of charming moves (where do they work out all those steps before going public?). Sometimes the music is Western, other times it's distinctly Chinese. Sometimes couples are dancing the swing, the fox trot or waltz, other times it's salsa or rumba or cha cha, or something I can't recognize. But whether it's couples or line dancing or musical group aerobics tai-qi style with all the mystic motions, public dance is alive and well on the streets of Shanghai and I just love it. My wife and I are planning to brush up on our old social dance courses we took and go out and join them some night.

The dancing is one of many things that makes me so happy to be here. But there's something bigger and deeper than just my personal enjoyment that draws me here. This is a land of miracles. Many people who have felt drawn to China and are now here are seeing and experiencing that. This is a difficult place to live, but here in the Shanghai Branch, so many of us feel blessed each day, supported and helped in ways we just aren't used to, sensing that the Lord is doing something through small means, small steps, but something real, something big. Something is brewing here in China, and it's going to be wonderful to see how all the strange little steps with the Lord's guidance may one day become a beautiful dance.

We like to think we have something precious that one day, when the time is right, we will be able to teach many people. But meanwhile, what's really happening is that people of China are teaching us. They have so much to offer, so much wisdom and strength and courage and beauty. If you want to understand what can be learned through suffering and affliction, our pioneer stories pale in comparison to what the people of China have faced in their long and even recent history. They know how to endure, how to work, how to sacrifice all they have, how to remain brave in the darkest of times and give hope to the rising generation. Some learn the wrong lessons and contribute to misery of others, but so many have come through the refiner's fire with noble souls that can lift and strengthen others even when their physical strength is spent. They are part of something amazing, something big that has been and still is brewing here in China. My wife might call this my boyish optimism again, flying in the face of reality, but there is a sense shared by many here of something great waiting to be revealed in China. I can't wait to see when and what it is.

Meanwhile, may the people of this great land keep dancing! And may some of us LDS people join the fun.

5 comments:

Paul said...

Nice post, Jeff. I could visualize your walk from your description!

I remember seeing the dancing on Saturday mornings as I'd walk from the Intercontinental Hotel to my office in Puxi. Remarkable.

CuriousSmith said...

Really great post Jeff. I appreciated your comments on the many people of China who have overcome adversity with courage and grace. I share your hope that something is indeed brewing in China.

Anonymous said...

I thought this post would be about tea.

Bookslinger said...

Jeff, I get a similar feeling when I see the Chinese edition of the Book of Mormon well-received by recent immigrants from China. To see them eagerly read the Chinese edition alongside the English edition makes me imagine scenarios of how those people will connect the Book of Mormon to their friends and family back in China.

Anonymous said...

I love you, Bookslinger.