And now it's good to be back in this beautiful mountain-laden town in SW China; tourist crowds abound, but beyond the jam-packed streets and 1000 shops selling the same wares, lies a gorge with 8000' vertical feet of relief from snow-capped peak to (a once) turquoise-colored whitewater river. The Tiger Leaping Gorge is the name, and while the wooden tigers lining the street and adorning the cafes give some semblance to the name sake, I think the beauty of this place draws more visitors than the folk story behind the name. A friend I met up with here shared that in 2004 an estimated 4 million tourists meandered through the winding streets and shops of this town; in 2010, that figure topped 10M! The pictures within this note are from the Gorge. 6 of us hiked it for 2 days, and met up with an Italian man, Andrea, who joined our gang.
To visit this city again 2+ years after my original visit in the winter of 2010 has been good; to be here with friends is doubly enjoyable. And, even with my language being a bit rusty and having forgotten plenty of words, I've found that communication has been, in large part, doable and even encouraging. Polite to a fault, a few times a day I hear the saying "Your Chinese is without mistakes." Now, I appreciate the compliment, but all I can do is laugh when a few minutes later the same lady offering the above commendation sends her husband to get pad and pen so I can write my question in characters because she can't understand what I'm saying. He returns quickly, and while the pad and pen are being offered I reiterate, "I can't write Chinese." They laugh heartily, having missed the first 2 times I said the same!
If my friend here whose inn we've stayed at for the past several days had one story about language learning that will forever stick with me, it was this one. He said in his first year or two in the South of China, his attempt at the language in the form of a question was met with the reply, "Sorry, I don't speak English!" Hanging his head, he slunk back to his apartment to double back on his study efforts. My language is by no means worthy of any sincere compliment, and yet I hadn't had that happen...til yesterday! Chris, Clint and I were in search of a big supermarket where we'd rendezvous with a couple to hear about their life and work here in LJ. I knew we were in the general vicinity, but wasn't sure which direction to go...so I started asking.
The first 2 women I asked got us started in the right direction, and we turned down a side street after passing a stoplight, which was to be the marker for where to turn. But, seeing no market, I approached a construction laborer. He stopped long enough from heaving concrete and bricks to say, "Sorry, I don't speak English." I gathered my wits about me, and said in a more pronounced tone (if I'm lazy in English, that will not suffice in Chinese where a lack of attention to proper pronunciation of tones will sound like gibberish), "Do you know where Likelong Supermarket is?" He directed the question to his friend across the rock pile, and we were on our way down to the correct stoplight where we, in the end, found the market and my friend awaiting us!
Language-wise, my desire is to one day be fluent in Chinese to the point where I can freely and easily communicate with friends here. But in the meantime, some of the most encouraging (and personally challenging) times have been with friends, new and old, who also have made China their home after moving abroad. Whether from Europe, S. America, USA or elsewhere, the stories are vast and numerous, but they all have as their foundation One who has led, provided for, and shown His great love for them, that the people here--and, indeed, all those from every tongue, tribe, nation and language--would see that He offers the same. Many well-meaning people throughout history said that Paul, Moses, Abraham, Job, David and Jesus were not living very wisely and should just give up on their obedience, love and faith toward their Father; the story is the same with many here who have left homeland, family, and friends--all that is familiar in a sense--to follow the One whom they know called them here.
Please don't misunderstand, though. It's not because any of the above people didn't love their homeland, family and friends, but love for the One who created us and calls us each to a different work calls us to also love Him more than these; the choice is to be lived out daily and the way it plays out is different for each of us. For some, it means moving overseas, acquiring a new language (or two), customs and culture. American I will always be, even if I happen to hear what some have heard after being here for 10-20 years---while in a meeting, an American friend of mine received this compliment, "It's like there are no foreigners here among us." His diligence in language study, acquisition of cultural norms, and even his ability to eat "hen lade zhong guo cai" marked him as a local person in the eyes of those he's befriended. But, inasmuch as I'm American, I strive to "become all things to all men, so that I by all means may save some."
Tonight, Chris, Clint and I board an overnight train ride; 9 hours later we will awake in a city of 5 million; this provincial capital city acts as our transfer city for these 2 months of travel; it's bustling with universities, a new airport and subway under construction, and skyscrapers aplenty (as large as can be safely constructed anyway in an area prone to earthquakes). It's in this city where we will again meet up with a few friends we saw last week when our group numbered 6. Since then, 2 men returned to GA, and a 3rd, Jonathan, picked up his girlfriend, Katie, today in Hong Kong. We'll meet them at the airport tomorrow, and the 5 of us will be together for nearly 3 weeks when that couple leaves for other travels, and I then meet up with my sister, Wendy, and other friends from KC in another capital city of Sichuan province, the province that suffered the massive May '08 earthquake. Until next time/zai jian!