An Unusual Summer

In the April issue of THE OUTLOOK the writer of this article, An Unusual Summer, wrote another most interesting article, To the Orient, Miss Johanna Timmer, departmental editor of Reformed Women Speak, informs us that, for security reasons, the writer must remain anonymous also as the writer of this article.

Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5).

Have you ever met a truly meek person? I did. I met her on the other side of the world. She is my mother-in-law. I never expected to meet her, never even dreamed about it. Yet one summer I was given the blessing of meeting her. After I had known her for several weeks the above quoted beatitude of Jesus came to my mind.

I had often been told that the Chinese mother-in-law, if good, is a very, very good mother-in-law. I found that to be true of mine. Tiny, quiet, sweet, and thoughtful—she treated me like royalty. She thought about my every comfort, not only my bodily needs but also my mental and social needs. But she was more than just kind. For a time it eluded me that one quality she possessed. But one day there came to my mind the thought that she was one of these whom Jesus had in mind when He spoke of how blessed it is to be meek. She has had a life full of hardships, sorrows, loneliness, and privations, but not one word of self-pity came from her lips. Not one word of reproach or faultfinding, only a sweet acceptance of God’s dealings.

Though raised in the philosophies and teachings of Buddha and Confucious, she now believes in the teachings of the Bible. Through wars and separations she has stoutly held on to the promises extended to His people by the Savior. Great changes have swept over her land and altered her life-style, but they have left unshaken her beliefs in a merciful God. Having been deprived of the Book of Life for many years, she can still recall several Scripture passages. These are her comfort and source of fortitude even as God has promised they would be to all Christian travelers. Though we could not converse together, in most instances we understood each other. Her sense of humor, undimmed through all of life’s travail, was another one of her charming features. We had many good laughs together. Whenever my fun-loving sister-in-law made me the butt of her many jokes, my sweet and gentle mother-in-law always was my ardent champion. Now it was because of the visit we made to her that I spent an unusual summer in the Orient.

Ordinarily I spend the summer months close to home tending the flowers, but this particular summer found me far, far from home in a hot and humid climate, in a land with a different culture, language, dress customs, and food. Because I knew that our stay was of a certain duration I felt I could adopt myself to the strange customs that daily confronted me. I have gained a new respect and admiration for those who leave their homeland to live in foreign lands for long periods of time. The awareness that we were far, far from home was often with me. At night when the stillness pervaded I would consider the great distance we had come and it would give me a desolate feeling in my heart. It seemed incredible that we would have to travel that same distance before we would be home again. That was a part of my unusual summer.

The summer was singular also in that we spent all of our time in China in hotels or Overseas Chinese Buildings as they are called. It had been my hope and expectation that we would live in the homes of those we were visiting but we did not. This was a disappointment for me. I was not in any home as long as we were there. You may wonder why. I believe the best answer is that the homes are not adequate for guests and neither is it desirable for anyone to have strangers around or about their premises.

To accommodate guests the country has provided large hotels, one or two in a city, depending on the popularity of the city. From these hotels come personnel to meet the incoming tourists at airports and train stations. They secure the baggage and provide the transportation needed on the days the guests arrive or leave. The information that one is arriving, must be sent ahead of time. In the large cities of Canchow, Shanghai, and Peking these buildings were filled to capacity and were “beehives” of activity when we were there. In them we could gct all our meals, postal supplies, buy novelties, go to the barber, see a nurse or doctor, and at the main desk have all our “comings and goings” checked. Here we were or were not given the permission needed to visit a certain town, area, or building, depending on what we had in mind. We soon learned that everyone was required to ask permission to do this or that. Disappointments were inevitable. Reasons were not given. It was best not to ask. For example: we were denied permission to visit my husbands old home and alma mater.

I had naively thought that we would be feted and escorted to the popular places by our relatives. It was not that way at all. Rather it was just the opposite. Strangely, we became the hosts and provided for the food, lodging, and transportation for all who came to see us and for those who accompanied us on our travels from city to city. Naturally we were happy to do this. It gave us much satisfaction to create some diversion in the lives of those whom we came to visit.

If I had been told beforehand that I would have to do our entire summer’s laundry by hand in a small sink, I would have been dismayed. And if I had known how hot it would be I would have been yet more dismayed. The heat and high humidity caused the perspiration to flow freely, which in turn created much laundry. Taking care of this became a nightly chore. The humidity was a factor to contend with, which made the drying process tedious and burdensome. You may wonder why we didn‘t have it done by someone else. Laundromats arc nowhere to be found. In only one hotel did I see some laundering done by young boys. They did it cheerfully and economically but were faced with the same problems, that is—the washing, hanging, and drying of the clothes. So I didnt bother them with our laundry. Appliances, such an important part of our life, are unknown to the Chinese homemaker. In spite of this, the people appeared neat and clean. Ironed garments werent mandatory; so after a few weeks I gave up ironing my dresses. It didnt seem to matter one way or another.

The sun hanging in China’s sky commands much respect. Its rays are fierce and hot. My hair became crisp and dry, my clothes faded visibly before my eyes. My suitcase contained nylon articles which clung and pulled and were most uncomfortable. How sensibly the Chinese dress in deference to this mighty nreqalI. Cotton clothes, cool and absorbent, make up their wardrobe. All dress alike, a simple loose blouse with black slacks mid-calf long. This simple wardrobe is adequate for aU occasions. There are no social functions, clubs, or parties to dress up for. This eliminates all competition in dress. This was a set goal and it has been attained.

So it naturally is the clothes which sets all tourists apart from the natives. This is true also of tourists who are Chinese but from other Asian countries. Jewelry, make-up, styled hair, dresses, jeans, slacks, even the shoes, make one conspicuous wherever one goes. The few who try to copy the native dress fail to conceal their identity.

The food also made my summer unusual. Chinese food is famous throughout the world. Now I had come into the country where the true, typical Chinese food was prepared. This is a completely different experience from eating in a Chinese Restaurant in America. It was delicious. I enjoyed every meal. I never thought I could eat rice three times a day and not tire of it. The variety was endless. I never longed for western-style food. The best was given to the tourist. Prices were reasonable. Vegetables sold in the street markets were so cheap we couldn’t believe it. To cite one item—beans were one and a half cents a pound. Inflation is unknown in China. Prices are set by the authorities and remain so fixed. Large quantities of food are brought into the cities every day on carts pulled by man or donkey, or on trucks, or on the backs of bicycles. It is raised on the great communes and there is sufficient to feed the millions who inhabit this land.

I saw the verdant, green-gleaming productive rice fields, rich and beautiful in color and production. saw the workers toiling endlessly in the fields with bent backs under the torrid sun. It was then that I decided to try never to waste a grain of rice if at all possible. I have seen what it costs in human exertion and toil to fill the rice bowls of the tables of the world.

I thought also of God‘s never failing goodness in sending rain and sunshine upon the fields. Ignored, slighted, and unacknowledged, He remains faithful. But known to Him are the workers and the eaters that are His in this beautiful land. Even as God in mercy would not destroy the cities of the plains for the sake of ten, so He remembers His own in the Middle Kingdom. He does not forsake them but bestows the rich yield of the soil upon them and their offspring.

Let me not forget the tea. How many, many glasses of tea I drank that hot summer! Thirst plagued me every day. How I missed the cold drinking water we can so readily get from our taps. All the water had to be boiled for health reasons. The hotel rooms were kept supplied with large colorful thermoses of hot water and packets of tea leaves. Ice cubes or cold water were nowhere to be obtained. So we drank tea—at meals, in between meals, on our tours, in the trains, in the airports, even at the Great Wall. I saw the tea bushes from which the tea leaves were plucked for our fragrant drink. The tea bushes on the lovely terraced slopes serve a dual purpose. They impart beauty to the landscape and were instrumental in quenching our thirst.

The intense heat too, made it an unusual summer for me. I have quite a high tolerance level for heat, so fared quite well. But there were times when I didnt dare stir out of our rooms. Nights werent much better.

But the Chinese are clever. They would never expect a person to be comfortable on a mattress during the summer. Mattresses were replaced by wooden frames which contained a webbed center. It had a bit of give but not much! A woven mat was placed on this frame. A smaller reed mat encased the pillow and that was our bed. No sheets or pillow cases to wash all summer long. At first my bones rebelled. They weren‘t used to such hard treatment! But after a few nights I became accustomed to it and slept very well. I slept especially well if I didnt let my thoughts start wondering who had slept on the mats on previous nights.

But my nights were never quite long enough. The Chinese arc early risers. As early as 5:30 A. M. the sounds of the great cities would commence. The noise which bombarded our ears was an unpleasant factor in my unusual summer. In China noise pollution is either an unknown term or else completely ignored. It bothered me to the point of irritation. The continual beeping of vehicle horns and bicycle bells made one great swelling wave of noise which never quit. The masses which throng the cities on foot and bicycle spill over the sidewalks into the thoroughfares and they have the right-of-way. Instead of the pedestrian fearing the motor vehicle, the driver fears the pedestrian. To warn the countless people that obstruct his way the driver blows his horn and never lets up. To add to his frustration the people don’t pay any attention to him, so he blows the horn with greater concentration and vigor. It must be said to the great credit of the drivers that very few pedestrians are ever struck by any vehicle.

These disturbing sounds were compounded by a strange element so foreign to us and that was the loudspeakers posted all over the cities. In loud, raucous tones they blared forth many messages, news bits, information, reminders, instructions in physical exercise, and martial music. Let it suffice to say that it was entirely different music from what we hear on Sunday.

To sum it all up. I believe I can say that my summer was made yet more unusual because there were no Sundays. All the days of the week were alike. There is one day of rest for the laborers but it comes on different days. The former church buildings we saw looked gaunt and lonely. They are mutilated and desecrated. I was reminded of the words of Jeremiah when he cried out in anguish, “How is the gold become dim! How is the most fine gold changed! The stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street” (Lam. 4:1).

My slimmer in China has given me a keener appreciation of our Christian literature, our Christian radio programs, our open churches and libraries, our freedom and our spiritual blessings. Please remember to pray for China.