April 18, Baotou

    So... Time for another update. Since I wrote you last a lot of things has happened, most of it good and some of it interesting enough to write home about. I've had the opportunity to experience the Chinese in their homes, at their work, and recently even in their religion. I've also had my first (second-hand) experience with the Chinese authorities...

    But first I'd like to tell you a few little known facts about the weather here.

            Fact # 1:    It Sucks!

            Fact # 2:    Sandstorms come with no warning!

            Fact # 3:    You can have a sand storm and a snow storm at the SAME time!

    As you might remember I told you in my last letter that spring had come to Inner Mongolia. This is all well and good but unfortunately the weather is so changeable that you never know when a cold front might sweep in and send you back in the cold grip of winter. A week ago I had packed my warm jacket down, expecting nothing but summer-days ahead. Then, on a particularly sunny day with temperatures around 25 degrees, I went to my workout at the local fitness center. I was only there about 1½ hour but when I came out I found that the biggest sandstorm of the decade had descended on the city. Even the locals were somewhat concerned with the strength of this storm and did their best to get indoors.

    I went to dinner and then to class with some of my friends, so it wasn't until late at night that I came home and found that I had left a window open... The result: My ENTIRE apartment covered in a thick layer of finely grained desert sand. It took all night to clean the place, and I had to wash the floor 3 or 4 times over the next couple of days before my home was even close to sand-free...

    Usually these storms come quick and go away quick, but this storm was a bit more persistent and had apparently decided to invite one of its friends. So next morning a snow storm joined the party. I don't know if you can imagine what happens when you mix sand storms and snow storms, but allow me to enlighten you: It becomes a MUD STORM! Needless to say I was amused for only a few seconds before deciding that the weather in Mongolia is not all that nice. But ok, since it's well known that Danish people are only truly happy when we can complain about the weather, I guess even a mud storm is good for something.

    Moving on then, I'd like to tell you about another dramatic event, though this one didn't happen to me personally. As most of you know I've found myself a Chinese girlfriend, Lisa. She practices yoga a lot and was recently invited to a meeting with an Australian yoga-master who is touring China. She asked me to go, but (un)fortunately I had classes to attend. After my class I called her to ask if the meeting was over. She sounded very stressed and quickly told me that "there had been some trouble", "she was at the police station" and that "they wanted her to turn off her phone now"... "CLICK!"...

    I was naturally more than a little worried, especially since I could not get in tough with her until next morning. What had happened was that the Australian master had been teaching yoga meditation techniques, which had apparently confused some people of lesser insight. He had been reported to the police who promptly arrived with 30 fully armed troopers and arrested the whole class for being practitioners of a quasi religious movement which is extremely illegal in China. Fortunately Lisa was released (at 3 in the morning) when they were convinced that she was only there to do Yoga and had no connection with the illegal movement. The Australian is still in jail as I write this letter a week later though the rumor is that the police are fairly convinced that his teachings were not subversive and so he will probably be released in a few weeks.

    The whole thing was a sobering reminder that this is China, not Denmark, and that there are some things which you definitely need to stay clear of unless you have an ambition to see the inside of a Chinese prison cell. 

    Considering that communism and religion don’t mix well, the Chinese are surprisingly devout; even in "imported" religions like Christianity. I've found that Baotou has a large Protestant community who are very active in their worship. I went to the Easter sermon this past Sunday, and found the church filled to the brim. It was a quite strange experience since the physical surroundings of the service was quite different from those at home. For one, the church doesn't look like a church in the European sense; the alter is not much more than a small podium, there is almost no decoration apart from some Chinese writing of a (supposedly) religious nature, and the building itself might as well have been a conference center. The worshipers are crowded into three large halls on three separate floors of the building. On the first floor the priest is speaking directly to his flock, while the second and third floors settle for a view of the whole thing on big screen TVs through an internal video feed.

    I had the opportunity to observe people quite closely during the service and was surprised to see people shedding a few tears during the priest’s sermon but also finding the opportunity to talk on their cell phones. I counted four people (in my row alone) speaking on the phone during the service and no one seemed to mind much... Still, since the Chinese are apparently able to fill their churches with worshipers every Sunday, while a Danish church considers itself lucky to get the first few isles occupied, I suppose their way has definite advantages. In any case the people I talked to (which was not a few) all seemed to be firm believers and genuinely religious of spirit.

    I still meet a lot of new people all the time, which can be a mixed blessing. Although all of them mean well it can be a bit tiresome to go through the same question-answer routine so many times. It is worth it however; as the people I talk to are often extremely generous in return and often invite me out to some very interesting places. Last weekend I went to a traditional Mongolian restaurant. We had a great time, and I was introduced to charming customs such as: The guest of honor must drain the silver cup three times. The silver cup is (naturally) filled with hard liquor, and to refuse will be an insult. Another custom is to sing songs after dinner, also a custom which is hard to refuse. Unfortunately the only songs I can remember after “draining the silver cup three times” is the Danish national anthem, a nursery rhyme (“Se Den Lille Kattekilling”), and a horrible piece of Danish folk music (“Pas På Den Knaldrøde Gummibåd”)… However since no one understood the words anyway, they were all very successful  :)

    Well, that’s all for now. May-holiday is coming up so Lisa and I are going off for a ten days vacation in Yellow Mountains. I plan to replace my lost camera before that, so hopefully I can update the galleries on my webpage in the near future.

Hope you are all well,