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Merry Christmas

By Haiming - 25 de Diciembre, 2007, 14:24, Category: General

Today I went to one of the most emblematic churches in Beijing, the Nantang Cathedral., located beside the Xuanwumen underground station. The reason for this was that on the 25th of December a mass was to be held. Well, four to be precise: one in Latin, two in Chinese and one in a mixture of English and French. I didn't go to the Latin mass, although I'd have really liked to (Latin is one of my secret passions), because it was at 6 am. This was too early for someone like me, so I only went to the masses in Chinese and English / French. I didn't regret any bit of it. I was interested in seeing how a mass was like abroad, specially in a country like China, and I was also curious as to how the Chinese Christians worshipped God. I somehow felt it was my duty to do so.

The front of the cathedral.

Statue of Italian missionary Matteo Ricci, main responsible for the introduction of Christianism in China.

The feeling I had was strange: a mixture of sadness and happiness (although, now that I think of it, that is precisely Christmas for most Western countries, specially for Spain). The place was crowded, mostly by old people, and the air was filled with a scent of incense and religious music that made me feel at ease, and as if I were home. Everything was so familiar: the music, the words of the priest... everything. I could identify most of what the priest was saying, although everything was said in a language which was not Spanish, and I could even sing some of the hymns. The time I felt closer to crying was when we sang some chants in Latin and found that I could understand them and follow their melody despite never having heard them before. (There were screens all around the place, so I could actually follow the lyrics.)

Also, I was deeply moved by the old Chinese ladies that were praying, since they reminded me of my mother, my grandmother and other old people I met back in Spain. So, you see, not only did I improve my Chinese after coming here, but I could also feel a taste of my lost faith back. Well, I think I shouldn't be calling it faith, for it's been long since I last went to a church and I believed in all those stories. However, I do think that Christianism is something that must be protected, and it's very important that Westerners are aware of this. Something in me changed after going there, and now I want to deepen in my knowledge of my own culture. Although I know that I should be studying Chinese and working, I feel that this is also very important, if not the most important thing of all.

Inside the cathedral. All those Chinese characters written on the walls and on panels made me feel a bit awkward.

I went there with Huangping, one of my new friends here. She kept asking me all the time about the rites and everything that happened during the mass, but sometimes I was at a loss as to how to answer. All this made me feel a bit ashamed of myself, because it's my culture and although I'm supposed to know more about it, I couldn't give ger any plausible answer. I hope that living in China helps me to rediscover my roots and delve into them. Anyway, I'm sure that it won't be the last time I set foot on that church.

Little fountain in the entrance.

Last but not least, I also got some Christmas gifts! I wasn't expecting them, but my fabulous students made it happen. All in all, between yesterday and today I got the following:

1) A string of Beijing opera masks that I have hung on my bedroom's door. It's the deariest of all because it was a gift from Adriana, the best of my students and the one to whom I'm closer.

2) A box of biscuits. A gift from little Alba, who said that they are a specialty of Henan province, her hometown. They made a wonderful breakfast.

3) 3 guzheng music CDs. I specially like the first track on the second one, called 高山流水 ("water running down the high mountain"). This phrase refers to a story about Yu Boya, an old guzheng player (for those of you who don't know, a guzheng is a traditional Chinese string instrument which is played like a harp, but horizontally) and a woodcutter. Yu Boya was very talented old musician who would go everyday to the mountain to play his instrument, because nobody could appreciate his music. One day, a woodcutter that was passing by met him and listened to his music. Yu Boya asked him what was his impression when listening to his music, and he said that when he listened to the fast and lively stances he would imagine birds singing, but when he played sad bits, he would imagine a wounded bird. The old man was surprised to see that someone could understand his music, and from that they on they became very close friends until both of them died (well, that's just a brief account of the story, but that's the general idea). So, this little phrase is used in Chinese to refer to a long-standing and intimate frienship. Wei taught me this beautiful phrase last year, so I can't help remembering it and having a nice feeling when listening to the recording.

4) Some stickers to decorate my bedroom. My Xinjiang student Silvia gave me them to me. They are so pretty I actually feel sorry to waste them now, so I think I will wait until New Year to stick them around.

5) A book on the terracotta warriors in Xi'an, full of nice photographs. Courtesy of Carmen, who is sick now. Poor thing.

So, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day turned out to be far more interesting than I had first expected...

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