First of all, let me clarify this for those that are not familiar with the geography of Asia…
Hong Kong is not part of Japan, it’s now part of China and what is referred to as a Special Administrative Region. Hong Kong was a British Colony for about 100 years until 1997 when it was returned to Motherland China. Although China is a government run by a Communist Party, Hong Kong was promised economic and certain political autonomy for 50 years in 1997.
Hong-Kongese have been enjoying the freedom of speech, travel and trade for as long as they were under British reign, unlike our friends in Mainland China (We refer to the term Mainland China because in Hong Kong is comprised of Hong Kong island, many little islands and the Kowloon Penninsula).
So, when you meet someone who’s from Hong Kong, you may notice they’d like to emphasize their hometown as Hong Kong, since there’s a distinctive difference in many ways between Hong Kong, Mainland China and Taiwan. In case you wonder why it matters to us to clarify.
Besides, we are taught growing up the many things to be proud of Hong Kong, such as it being the 3rd largest financial city of the world (just behind New York and Tokyo) in the 70’s and 80’s. It’s nicknamed as “the Pearl of the Orient“, the perfect mix of the East and West, and “Shoppers‘ Paradise“. Hong Kong is a metropolitan, known for its food, fashion, fine luxury hotels and free trade policies that welcome all savvy investors and capitalists. For several years, the Hong Kong International Airport was ranked the Best of the World. The list goes on and on….
Just a little interesting fact of my recent discovery… Hong Kong houses Asia’s oldest Jewish synagogue, Ohel Leah, translated as Tent of Leah.
Alright now, I am ready to share with you about our 2011 trip to Hong Kong/China…
We arrived to Hong Kong airport after 20 hours of traveling by plane 1 week before Chinese New Year in late January 2011. We could not wait to see my niece, who was born just one year ago.
As usual, my mother has arranged an array of fun places and activities for us, mostly to show off her adorable Chinese-Jewish grandchildren from America. As she’d like to say to her Christian brothers and sisters, “You know, Jesus was a Jew and you’ve read lots about the Jews in the Bible, have you actually seen a real Jew before? Well, here they are!” Beaming with pride, she points to her grandchildren.
There’s no shortage of mouth-watering and delectable food in Hong Kong, dim-sum (little sampler of dumplings and a wide variety of vegetables and and/or Meat creations), Western Cuisines, Thai, Japanese, Pakistani, … you name it, they have it there. But Cantonese (Southern Chinese) Cuisine is most flavorful of all, and I may be biased.
This year, we were to spend Chinese New Year with my sister’s in-laws in Hubei Province traveling from Guangzhou there by the newly built High-Speed Rail (the world’s fastest train going at about 220 mph) for 3 hours.
The High-Speed rail was everything and more than what we’d expected - fast, clean, nice attendants servicing us. The train was swept at least every 30 minutes, which was impressive.
We arrived to my brother-in-law’s hometown, a small city near the Province Hubei’s capital at around 5:30p.m. Exhausted and hungry, we were glad to be there right before our usual dinner time.
Well, to our disappointment, we had yet another hour and a half to travel into his ancestral home in a little remote village for family dinner. We drove on a “road” which was not “built” for car travel, a very bumpy ride to say the least, but we were thankful that we came just in time missing 3 blizzard snow storms that swept the village and left.
We made the best out of our stay there to see my sister (Salina)’s in-laws in the cold/wet weather and our daily highlight of sundae and coffee at a local McDonald‘s in a town away from the home village. We were nevertheless warmed up fast by the coal-heated fire and the family’s warm hospitality.
The most wonderful news was that Salina’s mother-in-law recently had come to know the Lord through her friends. She even had the opportunity to go to church with her in the remote mountain village, the least expected place to have a Christian community. We are in awe of God’s amazing love!
We were then swept away on another planned trip with my mom a week later. We flew into Guilin airport on a sunny day and spent a day with some of our relatives there.
Guilin is a picturesque historical city with the peaceful Li River running through its heart and breathe-taking mountains as its backdrop that draws admirers around the world to come take a glance of its striking beauty… that’s what we call our hometown, where my great-grandfather built his family home when he held a high post governing the city and literally was my grandfather’s birthplace.
Before the Communists took over China, my grandfather took a trip with his new bride to visit his in-laws in Hong Kong.
Shortly after, the Communist government closed the border between China and Hong Kong (was a British colony then) and very similar to the Berlin Wall, my grandfather was separated from his large family for over 4 decades before he could see them again face to face.
He escaped the unfortunate fate of being in the class of “bad element“, the wealthy and the bourgeoisie, which his parents were persecuted severely to death by humiliation parading on their knees on broken glass, all family properties confiscated.
By God’s grace, our family repurchased our ancestral home and there, we got a glimpse of what once my grandfather called home.
On this particular trip, we spent only one day unlike other times when we ran around the city as typical Guilin tourists, for this time our itinerary was to tread 8 cities in 7 days, staying in different hotels every night. We finally got to experience what it’s like to be people performing on tour, being in different cities each day, except we were not performing.
You may be wondering what was the hustle-and-bustle about… well, I was asking myself the very same thing. All I knew at that time was we were going to places to see the people and places my mother was involved in with her business ventures and to meet people whom they all respect and admire my mom as their “mom” or “big sister”, one that loves her homeland and hometown so much that she takes pride to bring friends, family and business prospects into the Guang Xi Province to experience what she boasts about.
Little did I know God had something else in mind.
We traveled most of the day and arrived in Mung Shan, a developing business area. We met the town’s mayor that my mother became acquainted with. We were treated as very special guests.
On Day 3, we visited a church that my mother has helped renovate. There we met some wonderful sisters and brothers in Christ. On this rainy freezing day, they allowed me to worship with them on the keyboard. I do not know how to play and sing Chinese hymn songs, so I began to sing in English and translating it to Mandarin, as well as encouraged them to worship along.
We sang the simple but yet powerful Name of Jesus in Chinese with all our hearts in unison. That was beautiful! I saw their pure heart to want the Lord more, I was touched by their child-like faith in the Lord’s love regardless of their circumstances and life struggles. I was blessed by being with them and asked the ladies if they wanted to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. After explaining what it is, they were thrilled to be prayed over.
God gave me words to speak over this little church for His amazing glory to cover it and so many would step foot into it and be blessed. It was a glorious day despite of the chilling rain.
We rode in a car traveling half of this day. There’s no such thing as drive-thru in China. It’s really a very American concept. I can’t even envision my family grab some McDonald’s burgers and get on the road. In spite of being on a tight schedule, we stopped on the road for a 5-course meal. Fortunately, I was able to grab a quick coffee from a McDonald’s in the city on our route. We arrived to a small city named Rong Shui to stay the night.
After dinner, we took a walk around the block from our hotel.
Lights, music, everything red and gold was constant reminder of New Year which everyone was celebrating, joyous sound and sight filled the air. Vendors were everywhere selling toys, flowers, street snacks (which we tried to avoid fearing for unsanitation), and, aaaaaaah… flying lanterns?!
We had just watched the Disney movie
Our children were excited to see an actual flying lantern. When the fire was lit up inside, the lantern inflated to be almost 4-foot tall.
We bought 2 of the lanterns, one for each of our children. My mom and some friends worked together trying to figure out how to fly the lanterns without a manual. The process was drawing excitement and a crowd began to surround us, we all watched with anticipation hoping that it’d work. Eventually, we saw the lanterns tugging and getting pulled into the wind, we all slowly let them go and watched them rise up into the sky carrying our quietly spoken wishes and prayers.
We began our day early to get on the road again. After breakfast, we traveled into a tiny village to be part of a Miao ethnic New Year celebration. Many do not realize that majority of Chinese we see are of the Han tribe. There are officially 56 ethnic minority groups in China, each with their own customs, dialects, and cultures. They integrated into the mainstream Han culture through work and inter-marriage, nevertheless, many still maintain their ethnic identity as rich heritage inherited.
In this remote village of Miao tribe, the women dressed in brightly colored traditional costumes and over-sized silver headdresses. Women were dressed in medium-brown outfits embroidered with vibrant turquoise, orange and pink stripes and flowers, little white balls of fabric dangled all around their skirts. We walked through vegetable and meat vendors, apparently a great day for business with hurls of people passing by.
I could not believe my eyes when I saw a man working on someone’s teeth on the side of the road. He advertised his dentistry service for a bargain there. Only in China! We felt like walking back in time hundreds of years ago when this was just a typical ordinary day in this little town.
We finally arrived to our hotel where we’d spend overnight.
“You can’t be serious!” were the words that slipped out of my mouth when my mother pointed to show us the hotel, which is a creek away from the tourist center. The ONLY way to get there was by walking on a bridge made up of wooden pieces and wires.
No, this was not one of our camping trail activities! This was the ONLY way to get to our hotel room! We were an hour and a half away from civilization, I just realized. Our room had no telephone, no heat, and no hot water; besides, temperature drops drastically lower there in the evening than the city.
All these were not even in the information given to our tour group leader, my mother. “It’s okay!”, I kept telling myself, “it’s only one night. Lord, help us survive it!”
My family went out for the tribal dancing and fireworks in the evening while I stayed in to get rest and hoped time would pass faster. I even missed the horse fight that my children filled me in all the excitement of the fights. I was even too tired to think about the violence I may not have approved them witnessing.
We were finally leaving the horses, beautiful mountains behind and headed back into the modern world. I was exhausted and couldn’t wait to take a warm shower in a nice hotel room…
When we arrived to our hotel room in Nanning, I instantly knew God had heard my prayers. “This is an incredible room!” thinking to myself, stuffed animals awaiting on the beds for our children. Electrically-operated windows and curtains, movement-senored lighting throughout our large room, it was divine!
After yet another banquet-style dinner, I was ready to crash and rest on the bed I’d been dreaming about…
But wait, I was overcome with a chill, stuffy nose, sore throat; apparently a bad cold had been brewing inside of me. Worse of all, I couldn’t sleep. I kept tossing and turning, watching enviously my sweet children sleeping.
I began to whine about this trip, again, that I’d not signed up for. I’d rather be in Hong Kong shopping, or going to a spa with my sister getting a massage or a well-deserved facial. I didn’t understand all this running around, the stress of traveling finally took a toll on me.
Wait a minute, I thought I heard my daughter coughing too. Oh my, I couldn’t believe it!
In the little hotel room we stayed at the night before was horrendous. It was so cold, and yes, I was reminded how blessed we are as Americans that many never would see a squat toilet in their lifetime (a hole in the ground) sorry, don’t mean to get graphic here, just as many Chinese may never see a sitting toilet.
I was thankful for the sanitizing gel we brought along, apparently bathroom soap was not a necessity in some areas we traveled to.
Surprisingly our children didn’t complain at all for all the inconvenience that so annoyed me. They rejoiced and had a fun time everywhere we went.
Unexpectedly, I felt an impression that God was speaking to me, not audibly but sort of like a whisper in my heart, “Do you remember what you have asked me for before this trip?”
I suddenly was reminded saying to God, “Lord, Let every step we take be claimed for your Kingdom!” I had declared that God would take claim for all the territory we covered on this trip before we even knew about all the miles we’d tread. He’s right, this trip is unprecedented and purposeful, and we may never travel like this again.
But whether I realized it or not, we were bringing God’s presence into places and people that have never heard of Him. The ladies we prayed with in the little church, the liveliness and joy our children brought to people which God’s placed on our path made an impact beyond my comprehension.
We were planting seeds, through our faith toward the Creator and Savior Lord, God can and will do more than what we perceive with physical evidence.
Now I know, this particular trip was bigger than me, bigger than my minor cold and inconveniences. I just wished that I’d been more intentional partnering with God, but He knows our weakness, and it’s in our weakness His strength is made perfect, His grace is sufficient for me!
As we left Nanning, my attitude shifted and was refreshed for the rest of our visit in China. It’s as if God hit the reset button for me. I felt better physically. I was able to enjoy the rest of our time there with friends and family.
Chinese New Year is a time of celebration, rejoicing for a renewed season. The old has passed and new hope awaiting.
We greet one another with blessings of what this new year will bring, as believers we trust in the only Hope-Giver that sustains our lives through the good and the bad. Children everywhere welcome red pockets with a smile and a ready greeting and blessing, as grown-ups hand them these little red envelopes stuffed with money signifying good-luck blessings.
Blessings received and given simultaneously.
A tradition has been carried on from thousands of years and will be carried forward for many more years to come by Chinese around the world.
Every time I go home, God teaches something. I feel like He gives me spiritual gifts to bring there, and He gives me some more to bring back to America, the place I call home now.
I pray for my people, they are no different from any other peoples, equally loved by our Creator.
A people that our Father God has been waiting for and longs to see them come back one by one into His loving arms as He gently whispers,
“Welcome home, My child!”