Two Months in Beijing
By Desiderio Ching
After nearly two months of studying Chinese, now I can easily read and write “ma” [马] which means “horse,” and “ma” [妈] which is “mom,” and “ma” [吗] which is a question word. But listening is entirely a different thing. Think of a five-note scale from do to sol: the horse “ma” is pronounced re-do-fa, while the mom “ma” is a whole note sol, and the question word “ma” has a neutral tone and is pronounced lightly and subtly. If Chinese is only reading and writing, then, it will indeed be fun like when you combine the characters for “stand” [立] and “sun” [日], you form the word for “sound” [音] then, write the character for “heart” [心] below this and you get “idea” [意]. Interesting, isn’t it? This is precisely one of the methods I use to remember Chinese characters – a jade [玉] inside the encircle radical [囗]creates a country [国]. Yet, like any other language, Chinese is meant not only to be read and written, but more importantly, to be spoken and heard. And this is what is most difficult for me. I am not tone-deaf for I can say and distinguish the four different tones (first tone: extended sol; second: mi-sol; third: re-do-fa; fourth: sol-do) in monosyllabic words. But all my knowledge of the four tones disappears when a word has two or more syllables, as if the CPU in my mind cannot process the information and gets short-circuited. Well, if Chinese was only a written language, then, it could very well be the international language for all.
I also visited a number of churches in different counties south of Beijing to see the first parish library sponsored by another parish outside China through the Sister Parish Program (http://www.noticiasdemacau.blogspot.com/ or http://macaubulletin.blogspot.com/ ). The towns are poor and so are the people who are mostly farmers, many of whom did not finish middle school. Yet the churches are not only big, but also full of people – men, women, young people, children – fervently praying, singing and participating in the mass. Even on weekdays! It is true that the Eucharist sustains our faith, but we also need ongoing education not only as disciples of Jesus, but as human children of God. The parish library can be one of the means to help our Chinese sisters and brothers have some kind of continuing education. The parishioners that got the first parish library were very happy and grateful that now they have a lot of books they can read. But besides the books, they also have to be assisted on how to read and understand those books, and relate them to their Christian life. Seeing how fervent those Catholics are and having been with them for some time made me think that some kind of distance learning courses on human and Christian formation will be more responsive to their present situation and needs. Such could be another project of the Sister Parish Program.
Comparing my two months of stay in Beijing with the thirteen years I was in Macau, I can say that these past two months in the Mainland had been grace-filled indeed. During my more than a decade-long stay in Macau, only two of my students decided to be baptized. Here in Beijing, all activities related to the faith can only be conducted in designated places by authorized people. We abide by the law of the country, but what shall I do if people themselves come and ask me about the faith and the Bible? Though I never advertise or proclaim that I am a religious brother, as I cannot do any active missionary work, people come to me at first because of English! The English language is like honey that attracts those who first of all have an open mind to learn a new language, and also hearts that are open to something new and different like our Christian faith. It seems that there is a great hunger among many people here for something more than just economic prosperity and progress. And God in his providence calls people to know and believe in him. So after only two months here, I had answered more questions about the faith and the Bible than the few queries I had received when I was in Macau. And as I write this, I am chatting with the fourth guy who plans to attend the catechumenate program at the South Church. Three have already been attending the program every Sunday afternoon in preparation for baptism on Easter next year.
So these have been my first two months in Beijing – a time of studying the mother tongue of my father, when I am old enough to be a grandfather myself, an opportune time to be where God wants me to be to receive the graces he sends. Yet, China is a fourth of the world, an enormous harvest, waiting for more laborers from the Lord.