The First Few Days in China

Wow! What a first week in China. It’s hard to imagine that only one week ago I arrived here and so much has happened. It’s good to know that in everything, God is in control, even when we don’t have much of a clue about what’s going on in human terms, and the past week has been an amazing demonstration of this.The basic problem has been the school which we had partnered with. Basically, they said they would get 1500 students for us to teach over three camps. A few weeks ago, they realised that they were very far away from this target – only about 30 had been recruited. This wouldn’t have been so much of a problem if they hadn’t promised the company we work for that if they fell short of this number, they would make up the difference – approximately £200k at the current time. The school first sent an email round to all of the people coming, saying that the trip had been cancelled, and told them not to come to China; however that plan failed. Now we’re over here and the school has resigned itself to us staying here, it’s not quite so bad, although the way they are treating us is quite clearly indicative of the amount they stand to loose because of this situation. However, things have been getting better throughout the past week, which by itself is quite a miracle.

Anyway, the week before we left, myself and Joel had to apply for visas, because we had both been abroad when the group of visas was handed in for processing. Joel handed them in on about the 20th June and I went to collect them the following week. However, when I asked for them, they said there had been a problem with processing our visas because we did not have the necessary documentation from the Beijing Education Board. Obviously it was impossible to get that at such short notice – getting any official letter from China takes at least a week. We did, however, have the letters from the Soong Ching Ling foundation which we had originally used to get our visas, but had been rejected. Miraculously when Joel went the next day with those letters, they granted him the visas (which had been put into our passports on the 20th June…). We later learnt when we arrived in China that someone from the school had phoned his friend in the government and asked for our visas to be cancelled to show his power and connections to the company that was in dispute with the school about the contract. He later told the company that he had changed his mind and allowed our visas to be processed; however Joel had collected the passports before that time. This was pretty strong confirmation that we were meant to be going to China because God had very clearly overruled the earthly authorities who thought that they were in charge of the situation.

The flight on Lufthansa was ok; we had a stop-over in Germany and watched the England match there (well, the first 80 minutes of it) before we boarded the plane. I think I managed about 2 hours of sleep that night. Upon arrival in China we got a taxi to the hotel where we were staying and as we got there we met up with Andy and he took us to lunch with the Chinese organiser (a rich businessman) and two of his school-friends, one of whom used to be the secretary to the now-leader of China. It was a very expensive and lavish meal and interesting to see how the Chinese do ‘guangxi’ (the whole idea of connections and being friends with high-up people
 to get more influence and strengthen e.g. your business position).

After that, we met up with the people who had been away that morning, going to church, and then heard that the idea for the day was to go to the school we wolud be teaching at and camp outside it for the day! Apparently this had been agreed the night before, because they were meant to be accommodating us but had refused because they wanted to get out of their contractual obligations, because they had about 40 students signed up, having promised 1500. Anyway, we took the bus to the school, unloaded our luggage, and then the bus left. Being a leader, I was shown aronud the school and they took us to a staircase which they said was where we were meant to be living but was under construction – it had been delayed due to storms. They took us to the very top and showed us a partially finished room. Someone accidentally opened a door at the bottom of the staircase to reveal a fully finished and furnished room and the headmaster quickly shut the door. We were then taken to the office for a meeting with the senior people in charge of the school. After being civil for about an hour and saying how they simply couldn’t accommodate us, the headmaster started yelling and swearing in Chinese for another hour. Eventually he ordered all the senior staff to go to his office and not to talk to us. We sat around for another few hours and managed to talk to some of the office staff who were really nice people and were quite appalled at the way the school had treated us. Meanwhile, everyone else was still outside worshipping and giving some English lessons to one or two random kids who were passing by. They also had a game of Ultimate Frisbee I believe.

Eventually, about 8pm the school decided to put us in a hotel for the night and brought the school bus (which had about 35 seats) to pick the 34 of us up with all of our luggage. It was of course dangerously unsafe and we packed the aisle full of bags – goodness knows what would have happened if the bus had crashed! We were just about to go at 8:30 when someone else arrived at the school and after seeing the cost to put us all up for one night decided to stop the headmaster from doing this. Everyone had to wait in the bus for another hour with the mosquitoes flying around (there was a big, still lake near the entrance to the school). Finally, they gave the permission to go to the hotel and we arrived about 10pm. I had to organise passports and the school hadn’t brought enough money etc. The star of the day was Mr Wang, a relation of the Chinese organiser of the programme, who was able to buy us food and water and also sat there for one hour while being sworn at in Chinese, because he was the representative of the company there. Finally, we got to bed about midnight and I calculated that I’d had about 10 hours sleep in the past 70 hours – i slept well that night!

That whole day I felt like Jack Bowers from 24 trying to organise things and getting off the plane to step into lunch with some seriously powerful people and then to the school to try to sort the contractual dispute out. It was quite fun but very hard work and very tiring.The next day (3rd July) I managed to sleep until 10am. Overnight, there had been negotiations from 10pm until about 3am and the school had decided that we should go ahead with the main camp and that they would accommodate us. The main thing that brought the school to realise they couldn’t just abandon us was a representative from an important Chinese organisation basically telling them that if they did so there would be serious international repercussions and the school would not want that to happen. Apparently at the end of the meeting the school had really changed and they were happy to be able to help us and look after us. I don’t know how much of that was genuine, but so far they have at least been accommodating to us, if not being particularly helpful unless asked. On that day we spent quite a lot of time faffing around and travelling to the new hotel which they put us in which was closer to the school. In the afternoon, we ate at the school and met some of the staff who were really nice and friendly. In the evening, we went back to the hotel which was quite posh and many people went to the swimming pool and sauna while they could.The following day (4th) we moved to the school and were meant to begin our week of travel/charity work. Needless to say, things did not turn out as expected. We were initially promised some travel in the morning and expected to be going to an old people’s home/orphanage in the afternoon. In the event, in the morning we went to a hotel/resort place called crab island. It is basically a Chinese retreat centre with various houses and apartments in the style of old Chinese houses. We saw a few of these, and they also had several attractions such as crab fishing etc., but we didn’t get to do these. In the afternoon, we ended up at a furniture ‘museum’, but unlike western museums, everything had a price so it was essentially a furniture show-room. The were lots of very amazing wooden structures i.e. beds, shelving units, desks etc. but they were all very expensive and no-one was that interested in them. There were also some Chinese paintings which looked quite nice too, but again after a few hours they got boring. We ended up in a room and had brought a guitar (because we still thought when we got on the buses that we were going to the orphanage). We had a worship session there and the ‘curators’ were very interested in it. The guy that the school had got to look after us was also very interested, and we had a nice chat about heaven and prayer. Despite being a waste of time in human terms it was certainly not in spiritual.

The next day, some of us went to do advertising in the second school (BJFD), which went really well. Lots of kids seemed interested and signed up, and the school were very welcoming and accommodating to us. We had a nice lunch there and then spent the afternoon doing laundry etc. back home. Meanwhile, the other two-thirds of the group had been bussed to two other schools in order to do ‘advertising’ which actually consisted of people being put into classrooms for the day and being told to teach. Because the minibus was quite small, they were taken in two different bus-loads, expecting to be dropped off at the same school, but rather they were taken to different schools. This is just an example of the miscommunication between our main school
 and us, because as I have said they didn’t seem particularly interested in our welfare but rather in making money.That evening, 8 of us were taken into a rich area of Beijing in order to do street advertisements; this was another mistake as although the advertising (singing songs, playing with children etc.) was quite effective, none of the people we talked to seemed particularly rich or interested in their children learning English.The following day, Andrew, Liz, Nelson and I went into central Beijing. Myself and Andrew went to talk to BJFD about the camp which we are having there and Liz and Nelson went to buy equipment for people. Liz, Nelson and myself went back to the school together because Andrew went on to a different school. It was certainly an interesting experience going back because we took the underground to the stop nearest our school. We got out and tried to find a taxi, but must have gone out of the wrong exit of the station because we ended up on a dusty chinese road. We walked along looking for a taxi, but because it was midday there were only one or two taxis and they were parked along the side of the road with their owners sleeping somewhere or eating. We wandered for a little longer and then came upon an indoor market. This was probably one of the most amazing places I’ve been to in China; they had hundreds of stalls selling either fruit, veg, or meat. We managed to buy Lychee and Mango Steem to take home, as well as some bananas (Chinese bananas are so much sweeter than western bananas; it’s really amazing). Eventually, we managed to find a taxi to take us home. We agreed with the driver beforehand that we wouldn’t spend more that 40 yuan (about £2.50) because Chinese drivers will sometimes go round in circles to get more money from you. When we arrived back at the school, the meter was at exactly 40!

On the 7th we went to a poor school this morning to do some classes. It was really interesting as there were only about 40 kids and 9 of us so we were able to do quite small classes and get to talk to the kids quite a lot. The school was in a really poor neighbourhood and was quite run-down; the toilets were literally holes in the ground with no sewers, but they still treated us really nicely and the kids seemed very interested in coming to the camp if they could afford it. The teachers were also very happy to have us, and several townspeople came and squatted at the edge of the dusty sand/mud playground and watched us. We had lunch there and then went back to the school. I had quite a long sleep because I was feeling a bit ill and then spent several hours on the phone to various people arranging for us to go to the school on the 10th. In the evening we had a meeting as usual, and as it was Lillian’s birthday we had a birthday cake (photos to follow).

Finally, on the 8th and 9th, I had quite a bad cold and so I spent most of these days in bed recovering (by watching 24). Being Sunday, everyone else went to the international church and followed it up with a MacDonalds in central Beijing.

All-in-all it has been an interesting few days but we’ve seen God working really powerfully here and we’re convinced that we’re meant to be out here and it will be interesting to see what He has planned for us the rest of the time we are out here!

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