Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Friday, February 26, 2021

My 2020 - Reflections on Leaving Beijing 

Phoebe, one of my former students, sent me this screenshot of her phone on Chinese New Year's Eve (February 11th) so I could see the cows dancing across her screen. This new year is the Year of the Ox. [Click for larger image.]

Chinese New Year is naturally a time of reflection for me, I guess partly because I first came to Beijing just before Chinese New Year in 2004. But this year it seems so even more because, ironically, the monumental events of 2020 actually fit the traditional lunar calendar better than the western calendar. The lunar year began the end of January of 2020. New Year's Eve was January 24th (according to the western calendar), and New Year's Day was January 25th. The lunar year just ended a couple weeks ago. New Year's Eve was February 11th, and the beginning of the new lunar year was February 12th, which, interestingly enough, is Abraham Lincoln's birthday according to the western calendar. So the lunar calendar for last year began with the Corona Virus, and ended with Donald Trump's second impeachment.

This is what I wrote in my journal on January 5th, 2020:

I do believe that this year will be a year of clarity as to my vision. I trust you to use this year to make things more clear to me, Father. I long to do your will. But I need to know what that will is. I do not want to say this to rush you. I want to be clear that I want to submit to your schedule, not squeeze you into mine. But I do believe that 2020 is going to bring clarity. Oh, give me deep and continuing resolve to abandon myself to the vision! Amen and amen.
Sometime later, something very strange began to happen. I had a painting of old Beijing that I had purchased from a painter many years ago. It had been hanging above my bed for many years. But suddenly, it began to fall down. It had hung there quietly for years, and now it fell down every time I touched it. I am not usually superstitious, but I couldn't help wondering...I said, "Lord, are you trying to tell me something?"

My journal again:

...The fact that I focus the covenant on China as a whole rather than just Beijing does not mean that Beijing is not important to me. But it does leave open the possibiity that you have intended all along to eventually bring me to Yunnan after a significant detour here. When I began to think about 2020 as the year of clarification of vision, I did not think to include that issue. But that picture kept falling down. So I began to think perhaps I should seek to clarify that issue in this year. This does not mean that I move in 2020. But I mean that somehow in this year I will have a clearer vision of whether Beijing was to be my initial place, or the place that I would generally live while traveling to other places in the summer. I don't know. Something tells me that I may be headed toward some kind of move. But something else tells me that in some way or another I will always be a Beijinger. I know this: If something happens with my current place of residence, I woulld be strongly inclined to leave Beijing. But if not, I am inclined to stay here during the year, and travel in the summer.
A short time later (March 7th), my landlady told me the police had ordered that I had to leave. I don't know why--I was not given a reason. I told her that I would move in the summer.

You know, when the police give an order like that, it is impossible to know for sure where it came from. The only thing that is fairly certain in such circumstances is that it did not come from the police themselves. I am quite certain that somebody in the local Party apparatus decided I had to go, and told the police to get me out of there.

Anyway, whatever the reason, somebody gave the order, and that was it. I knew right away what I had to do. I told my landlady that I would move in the summer. I wasn’t sure what to do with my stuff, so I needed some time. Eventually, Sunny, a friend from Haidian church, arranged to store my stuff until I could find a place in Kunming. Believe it or not, she found the only guy I have ever met in this country who has a pickup. They came out and got my stuff, and stored it for me until I could find a place in Kunming.

I had told the police I would move by the end of May. This was the expiration of my current police registration. I really was not angry with the police for making me leave. I am a guest in China. If you ask your guest to leave, he should leave. But what really annoyed me is the way they treated my landlady. They called her and told her that she would have to pay a big fine if I did not leave. The reason I was being so stubborn about not leaving until the last day was because I had a house full of stuff and I didn’t just want to throw everything away. I did leave a lot of stuff—clothes, books, kitchen stuff. Just couldn’t take it all with me. Dishes are troublesome to pack, expensive to ship but very cheap to replace. I took very little of it with me: My yoghurt maker, my cast iron skillet, and some place settings that had been a gift from my university. I left, I suppose, half of my books and both of my bookcases, some clothes, and some other appliances that I might have been able to use, but just could not take with me. Moving is about loss.

The end of May, I went to the Chinese government Entry-Exit office to get an extension on my duration of stay. The problem is that I have a tourist visa now, and I am required to leave China every sixty days. But because of the virus, I had not been out since the beginning of January. I had gotten one extension at the end of February, then the government had given a blanket two month extension to all foreigners. That took me until the end of May. So before the end of May I needed to get another extension. But the Entry-Exit office told me that if I got another extension, they would cancel my visa. I felt very fortunate that I had made the decision to leave Beijing (not just Fragrant Hills), and that I already had everthing packed up and put in storage.

I bought a train ticket to Kunming on the high speed train. It was a sleeper ticket. I usually get a hard sleeper on the slow train because they are pretty cheap. A sleeper ticket on the high speed train is probably the most expensive train ticket in China. It cost me 1200 RMB (a little less than two hundred dollars). But it was worth it. You see, as a foreigner, I did not want to be fighting the issue of social distancing on a crowded train. There were very few people on the train I took. Three different officers came to me during the night, but when they ran my passport and checked my phone meta-data, they could see that I had been in Beijing since January. I did not know this at the time, but last spring, Beijing had a fifty day period with no new cases. So I was not a risk. They let me get off the train. The next day I went to the Entry-Exit office in Kunnming and tney assured me that they would not cancel my 10 year visa. God is good. He times everything just right.

Then began a period of apartment hunting that lasted five months. I don’t know…no place seemed quite right. But I was not discouraged. It’s frustrating, of course, but I waited with the quiet confidence that comes from knowing that if God has brought me to this place, he will take care of the details. The wait paid off. I found a place that meets my need.

Tonight is lantern festival. Lantern Festival is always two weeks to the day from New Year’s Day. This year, New Year’s Day was Friday, February 12th. Today is Friday the 26th. So two weeks. But New Year’s Eve was the 11th. So from the fireworks New Year’s Eve to the last remaining fireworks on the evening of Lantern Festival is 15 days.

The fireworks on Lantern Festival are not as ferocious as the ones on New Year’s Eve. But impressive, nonetheless. It seems to be a chance to use up all the leftover fireworks from the last two weeks of celebration. Years ago, I had an issue with my eyes where an eye muscle got paralyzed. I went to the doctor and they loaded me up with B12, which cured the problem. But somewhere in that process someone had recommended a Christian sister who was an ophthalmologist. I went to her mainly to get a recommendation for an optometrist, which she gave me. But it happened to be right at Lantern Festival time and she told me how they were so busy right on that day because of the fireworks. You can’t believe the kind of fireworks that average people handle in China during the Chinese New Year period. That may be part of the reason they have been banned in Beijing. The fireworks this year in Kunming reminded me of what I used to be able to see from my apartment in Beijing years ago. Back then (as in Kunming now), you did not need to go to a special location to see fireworks. Just look out the window of any apartment in the city.

So what does the next year hold? I am supposed to be leaving China every sixty days. But it has been more than a year since I was last outside of China. I go to the government office every month to get an extension and every time I tell them that as soon as the border is open, I will go to Vietnam. What then? We shall see.

So we have now entered the Year of the Ox. When I think about the Year of the Ox, I am reminded of the passage in Matthew where Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Do you know what a yoke is? It fits over the neck of the ox and it is what the ox uses to pull the load. The yoke is designed for two oxen. It fits over the neck of two oxen so that they can pull the load together. When they are training a young ox that has never pulled a load before, they put the young ox in the same yoke with an older, experienced ox so that all the young ox has to do is follow along—the old ox is pulling all the weight.

So Jesus is saying to us, “Would you like to be in the yoke with me? I will be the old ox. You can be the young ox. You don’t need to work hard. Just follow my lead. You don’t need to worry about going the wrong way. My yoke will be easy for you and my burden will be light for you, because I will be pulling the weight.”

Are you tired of going your own way? Are you tired of carrying your own load? Give your burdens to God in this Year of the Ox. He will carry them for you. Just walk side by side with him. He will lead you. He will guide you. Your yoke will be easy and your burdens will be light.

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