Three Years

9 08 2013

We have been based in Beijing for three years now.

Our Chinese language skills are still painfully bad – our chief triumph is that we have enough grammar and vocabulary to explain just how poorly we speak and understand Chinese.  We are still functionally illiterate – we haven’t studied characters.  It is an interesting dichotomy – our professional lives are so dependent on fluency with words as we ask questions and listen for nuance and enlarge narratives; as we write liturgy and sermons; as we read and think and write and read some more.  And then, in our everyday lives, we are like toddlers who know some words; can point, smile and cry; recognise the characters for entry and exit but cannot read…  We are so utterly dependent on others in so many ways.


Even without any obvious signs like this one from the Hanging Monastery at Datong, we experience so much kindness and politeness in the face of our poor language skills and general cultural disorientation.

I’ve been thinking about how to summarise the year.  My health has improved.  Sometimes the improvements seem frustratingly slow and small but as I stood with both arms painlessly above my head clipping washing onto the overhead rack I realised that things are better than they were before.

We have had a year of lovely visits: Tineke, Lisa and Kylie, Peter and Ruth, Barb and Simon and in January the Williams family were here while we were on home leave.  We enjoyed hanging out in their spacious rural Waikato home while they crammed five adults into our Beijing apartment!  Clergy colleagues dropped in on their way through and we enjoyed the opportunity to show them a little of Beijing and talk shop for a bit!  We also got to share some time in New Zealand with Beijing friends which was a lot of fun.

Andrew with his parents on our Chengdu adventure

Andrew with his parents on our Chengdu adventure

We visited Shanghai, Hong Kong and Chengdu and Andrew returned to Xi’an with his parents.  China is vast and we have barely seen any of it but we do sometimes feel astonished that our life is such that we get to go and see the world’s leading panda breeding centre or a 1000-year-old Buddha.  To be fair, the 16metre high inflatable yellow duck was also a highlight of our trip to Hong Kong!

Florentijn Hofman's duck in Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong.

Florentijn Hofman’s duck in Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong.

Of course it is sometimes difficult to be so far away from family and friends.  Some tough things have happened this year, and not being able to hop in the car and be there is sometimes painful.  We are grateful for our four weeks home leave and for all the people who make it possible by loaning cars and providing beds.

My folks.

My folks.

We sat down with the congregation’s representatives on Monday night to talk about how things are going.  We continue to feel enormously privileged to be part of such an engaged and engaging community.  We have been witnesses to so much grace and goodness here – we have experienced so much grace and goodness ourselves.  May that continue to be so.




3 responses

9 08 2013

Your Chinese language skills might not be what you’d like, but your command of English continues to inspire … thank you, Jemma, for sharing this reflection, and for sharing snippets of your lives via FB. You are always thought of with great fondness!


9 08 2013

Thanks Cathy. Your generosity in sharing yourself and your life inspires me and is a gift to many people.


13 08 2013
lisa benson

we love pain free arms above heads…and we (that’s the whole world) love you. time and moments and years go fast. i didn’t learn any new languages this year either.
thank you for all your Jems Jem xxxxx


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