EMU Cross-Cultural

Religion in China; Comfortable without clarity

10/16/18

“Are you Christian?”
“Are you Mennonite?”

Every time I’m asked these questions, I usually respond with a sputtering “well I was raised Mennonite”, or even a resounding yes to bring a quick end to an uncomfortable conversation. However, neither answer really felt like an honest portrayal of my uncertain religious convictions.

In the West, we expect a simple yes or no to these questions. To us, religion is a binary: either you are or you are not. This expectation of exclusive belief makes discerning religious and spiritual ideas difficult; how can we figure out our beliefs when there is no room for grayness in religion?

In China, however, religion is nothing but gray. Religion (or philosophy, depending on your definition of religion) in China does not necessarily mean complete faith in one religion but can be a personal combination of many thoughts. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to find accurate numbers for people in China who

Building within Daoist Temple

consider themselves religious by Western standards. Someone may consider themselves non-religious but still pray for prosperity if they visit a Christian church or Buddhist temple. Or, one may consider themselves religious but believe in any combination of Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, etc., and practice in any kind of various ways. (This disbelief in exclusive religion is one of the reasons Christianity struggled for centuries to find its place within Chinese society).

This past Monday, we visited a Daoist temple, Nestorian Christian pagoda and a Buddhist pagoda/temple (all dating back to at least the seventh century CE). Normally, when discussing religion, we try to organize and classify each thought, finding differences between every religion. Visiting three different religious sites in one day, however, enabled me to see the similarities. The Buddhist and Daoist temples each were similar in composition, with classic Chinese architecture, inscribed paintings and figures to venerate. The pagodas at the Buddhist and Nestorian sites were similar in shape and size, and inside the Nestorian pagoda, Daoist and Christian iconography intermingled. If the places of worship were so similar, then surely the beliefs must be in some way as well.

Nestorian Pagoda

While I walked among the Daoist buildings within the temple walls, each decorated with beautifully bright paintings of nature and in the courtyards wafting with incense, I felt at peace. This feeling of connectedness was greater than anything I have ever felt in a church or at any of the European Anabaptist sites I visited last summer.

Perhaps this sense of peace I felt in the Daoist temple was the spiritual connection I yearned to have out of guilt for lacking the deep faith others’ possessed, but I eventually shunted, out of self-perceived failure and anger.

Buddhist Pagoda and Incense Burner

I have never felt comfortable answering yes or no to inquiries about my Christian faith, but maybe it is because a simple yes or no cannot properly convey my faith. China, and this cross-cultural, have given me a new and open space to explore my spirituality that no where else has and tools to process my complicated relationship with religion that I have yet to find exclusively within the Christian church. For this I am thankful.

I am not ready to turn my back on the Mennonite church, but I need more. While I have yet to reach any conclusions on how I identify religiously, I am no longer sure I want a definitive answer. In some ways, I am more comfortable without clarity. Ultimately, I think the Chinese may have it right: why strictly follow one doctrine when you can syncretize so many beautiful philosophies? Why be religiously stagnant when there is so much to explore?

-Emma Yoder


China: Making my way in the crowd

September 27, 2018

Top Questions Asked By Year at EMU:
Freshman year – “What’s your major?”
Sophomore – “What are your plans after college?”
Junior – “Where are you going for your cross-cultural?”
Senior – “No, seriously pick one. Why haven’t you gone yet?”

I remember picking my destination for cross-cultural in the fall of my freshman year. I was a naive 18 year old from rural Ohio who had never left the east coast, and I was ready to explore the world. I marched into the cross-cultural office as soon as I had mustered up my freshman courage to ask where it was. I pointed dramatically at the first person I saw and declared “Where can I get the most culture shock!” Perhaps my memory is a bit foggy on the details of my inquiry, but I do know I left that office with a definitive answer: China.

They say that if you keep a routine for twenty-one days, you will form a habit. However, they do not say the length of time it takes to assimilate yourself into a completely new culture.  I woke up this Monday morning and walked to the bus stop to have our early morning class thirty minutes away. As we waited the fifteen minutes with vacant stares for bus 22 to reach our stop, Anna turned to me and asked, “Do things feel just…normal now?”

For one of the first times in my life, I didn’t immediately have something to say. I looked to my right and there was the usual pop-up shop that sold magazines and various breakfast breads enshrouded in pork floss. To my left were some locals who had pulled out their phones and were taking pictures of the thirteen foreigners who were waiting for the transit. The sound of the endless honking of cars communicating their whereabouts to each other filled my ears along with the sizzling of various meats being cooked, skewered, and sold for 3 yuan per stick; an inexpensive 50 cent breakfast for North Americans. I looked back at Anna, shrugged, and offered, “kinda.”


 

We have reached our fourth week in China and third week in Nanchong. In no way can I say that I have come to adopt the Chinese culture in its pure essence, but neither can I say that I haven’t grown accustomed to the stark differences. When we arrived here, I can definitely say I felt very out of place. Immediately, I could tell that we were an oddity by the looks we were receiving of neither disgust nor excitement, but of intrigue. Beijing is definitely a place for tourists, however, with a population of two million, we are spread thin. A group of thirteen was a rare sighting. We were followed by whispers of “Weiguorenmin” (foreigners) and then “Meiguorenmin”(Americans) when they heard our comparatively monotone English voices. Once I heard a little girl walking past us in an alleyway, counting out loud how many foreigners there were and exclaiming “Shi san ge Weiguoren!” to her friend when she figured it out.

The racial diversity in Chinese cities may be spread thin, however, the shear number of people per square foot is not. We have had to reduce our personal space down to about 5 centimeters while in public. This was my biggest worry as I have enochlophobia, the fear of crowds. I remember while visiting New York, I had to wiggle my way out of a rather large one to take a breather and collect myself. I have noticed a difference however, to the crowds of New York, USA and those of Nanchong, China.

When in a crowd in New York, people are not used to being this close to each other, and every little mistake is seen as a problem; being elbowed in the ribs after the transit suddenly halts in the road, stepping on another’s shoes when trying to quickly avoid a near death experience with a taxi, or accidentally “brake-checking” someone while reading a sign. Here in China it is different.

Last evening, I was attempting to get onto a bus back to the university at the same time the primary school let out at 9:00 pm. The bus driver looked at the three foreigners and two locals on the steps waiting to scan their bus passes and looked back to the collection of children whom we would spend the next hour standing beside. He shouted something I can only imagine to mean, “Make some room!” I was the first one to board the bus and saw a wall of children hanging onto each other and onto the nearest support, so I did what I had learned in the past four weeks in China to do; I pushed.

In Mandarin, there is no phrase for “excuse me” to use in a crowd setting. The closest we have learned is “qing wen” which literally translates to “please question.” So we must push our way through only muttering “dui bu qi” (sorry) when we accidentally make a wrong move and cause the other person pain. While moving through a crowd, it is less of asking people to part the Red Sea, and more of swimming through Dr. Seuss’s famous Oobleck. I have been able to wiggle my way through, but been restrained by my backpack being stuck between two people.

Curiously, I am less anxious getting onto busses or pushing my way through the sidewalks, invading people’s personal bubble. I think this is due to the expectation that this is how to get from point A to point C when point B is blocking your path. There isn’t the awkward hand on the shoulder and slight bow as you excuse yourself by someone. I think I always feared the social repercussions, responsibilities, and constant apologies that needed to be said.

I feel that China has made me more comfortable with asserting myself. I may be illiterate, but I have gained the confidences of at least two Finns.

-Finn Wengerd


China: Adventure in the great wide somewhere

21 September 2018

I want adventure in the great wide somewhere.

This “Beauty and the Beast” lyric has resonated with me since I was a child growing up in small-town Pennsylvania. I related to Belle on a personal level, always wanting more, looking for interesting things to happen whether they be positive or negative. As I was watching this film for the umpteenth time with my host family last weekend, I began to ponder what the lyric has meant to me.

Like Belle when she first arrived in the castle, these first few weeks in China have been rough for me. Changes are never easy for me, but this felt different. Nothing was exciting me nor was it disappointing me. I was just going through the motions, and it felt pretty terrible. I forgot why I wanted to come to China in the first place. I felt like Belle locked in the dungeon. Then, I began to make connections with my classmates, the enchanted household items of my trip, the schedule began to solidify and made days go by swiftly, and I took the time to absorb and explore the world (castle) around me.

Some of my favorite explorations so far have been riding alone in a sketchy three-wheeled cart, sitting introspectively on the Great Wall and taking in the immensity and beauty of my first wonder of the world, playing badminton with my host mom, searching for American food among the noodles and rice, tasting duck (“Be Our Guest”, am I right?), and snapping pictures of every piece of Peppa Pig merchandise I can find.

This is my adventure. This is the great, wide somewhere I have been seeking. The Beast locking me up is Chinese class, the Gaston chasing after me is sickness, mental and physical, and the magical utensils providing me with support are my classmates. Most people where I am from do not travel to other countries; they get stuck in their “little town,” and I never wanted that for myself. I chose to travel to China because of the immensity of the Great Wall, the expansiveness of cities, and the adventure of it all. I am no longer thinking of this trip as a three and a half month cross-cultural, but as the adventure that has always eluded me.

-Cheyenne Marzullo

 


China – Host Families

Sept. 14, 2018

It has been two weeks since our 14 hour flight landed in Beijing, and we have already experienced so much. This small group of ten unique individuals has begun bonding over our own similarities in such a different culture from our own.

So far, everything has been a beautiful combination of adventure, fear, joy, and appreciation. We walked on the Great Wall, saw the Temple of Heaven, and tasted all sorts of wonderful food. The newest challenge that we had to face was meeting and living with host families.

Last Wednesday, we traveled from Beijing to Nanchong, and the following day we met our host families. Needless to say, there was not much time to prepare for the confusion, excitement, and awkwardness that ensues when living with complete strangers who speak and live in a totally different way.

I was terrified, but I was also hopeful. While some of my classmates’ names were called to be matched with their host families, I silently prayed to be assigned to a family who knew English. My name was finally called, and I introduced myself to my host father, Lan.
As it turns out, my host family does not know much English. After meeting Lan and having to use a phone translator, I held on to the hope that perhaps my nine-year-old host sister would know English.
Reflecting now, it’s funny how desperately I wanted them to know English because despite that not being the case, I am so lucky. My host family is so genuine and caring, which, if I had paid more attention, would have been clear during that first meeting with Lan. From that first introduction, all he wanted to do was show me pictures of his daughter, Vivian.

His eyes were stars when I complimented her cuteness.
While the rest of my group went out to dinner together that Thursday night, I enjoyed a home-cooked meal with my host family. It was scary at first. I was alone to figure out this different culture. Now, I know how blessed I am to have such a loving host family.

Staying with strangers is weird. I had difficulty determining how to act because my version of polite did not fit theirs. I didn’t know how to act or what to do in many situations, but this not knowing forced me out of my comfort zone and tested what I thought I knew to be true.

I’m a quiet person, though, so listening and observing is my specialty. I was okay with not being talked to every second because it gave me plenty of alone time with my own thoughts and feelings. I enjoyed trying to determine what the family was talking about based off of what I know about body language. It was fun inventing what I perceived to be the conversation, then Lan would translate some for me, or he wouldn’t; it depended on the situation and whether or not that conversation had anything to do with me.

Even with a translation app between us, I learned quite a bit about my host family. Lan and Vivian both like to read. Lan is an Astro-physics professor, and his wife is a history professor, but they met during undergrad when they were both physics majors. Vivian is in the fourth grade, but she is currently reading English at a second grade level.

My favorite part about spending time with my host family last weekend was when I got to help Vivian read me a book from her English class. Finding common ground in such a new and different place is difficult at times but beautiful once you get there.
I am fortunate to have such a wonderful host family, and China is beautiful.

I look forward to tomorrow.

-Anna Cahill


Lithuania: Photo Essays

Apskritimai/Circles by Bekah Mongold

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?ui=2&ik=5886e5d579&view=att&th=164510655d2d12e0&attid=0.2&disp=inline&realattid=f_jj1hd8uk1&safe=1&zw

Sukilimo Menas by Toni Doss

https://drive.google.com/a/emu.edu/file/d/1magL7kThtRfEbXnJYSCO7sqcl4rGwJox/view?usp=drive_web

 


India: Rite or Ritual

Rite or Ritual

 

Divine – Sacred – God – Spirit

With our words we sew a suit for it

but it always bursts the seams

no regard for blush or shame, it seems

so it’s fitting that this thing unnamed won’t stay cinched

in the western clothes we’ve carefully stitched

 

Toothy temple bracelet tiers,

Jama Mosjid’s twisted spires

ghat-descending funeral biers

and haunting red cremation fires –

All things meant to awaken or inspire

a newfound belief in a power, higher

 

But just as with every story or sword

there’s a second side, one not as heard:

the labor behind every mug poured

or the hours spent on a title word.

In this, religion cannot be ignored ––

it has its own unheard, where meanings are blurred and emotions stirred

a lesson we learned when a Sikh’s wrath we incurred.

 

Hot, heavy, and sudden – like a cloud, it came,

before you could blink, no time to think

covering all with a bittersweet stink

marked by traces of jaggery and shame.

We broke a rule never spelled out in ink,

but that doesn’t excuse us from taking the blame.

 

Shaved head, robed in red, prayer beads, back bent

He shoves me aside – this monk is intent,

nothing will dent his spiritual ascent,

too bent on finding enlightenment

to see the ones for whom the light was meant

 

And while the tourists on vacation –

just a few with constipation – sit to watch the celebration

the priests with adulation all recite their incantations

and the fathers and the brothers watch the flames of the cremation

the souls of their relations now released to incarnation

flame and spirit cycle ever-turning, no cessation

This enunciation is how the Hindus praise creation

But now their holy river sits in putrid desecration

 

The people choke the river and the water chokes the people

Bathe in it, it’s sacred, but drink of it, it’s evil

a river drowned in trash, the matter mostly fecal

and how about the dumping? Oh, that still happens – it’s legal

The human and the natural in embrace, locked and lethal

A deadly combination for the river and the people –

A mutual expiration by ash asphyxiation

 

Now trace the Gunga from this Varanasi ghat,

Away from the bodies beginning to rot

Down to Kolkata, where it’s humid and hot

and the water runs free in the streets a whole lot

But drinkable? No, definitely not –

or upriver now, to our whitewater spot,

where workers build roads and new vehicle lots

heedless of the noise and the trash that they brought.

Big changes – by whom, and for whom, are they wrought?

Just a little food for some thought.

 

Shiny new shopping malls

and plastic bag snack stalls

Machine-woven shawls

and unlimited calls

Urine-sprayed walls

and traffic at a crawl,

How can we have the gall

to say this is progress?

 

We’re the last link in this long chain reaction,

a nuclear bomb that the Brits set in action,

a centuries-long ploy for power

that culminates here, now, in this hour –

“Please, sir, won’t you buy a flower?”

with a fifty-rupee cash transaction.

 

He’s smiling, I’m smiling, decisions are made,

but I feel like I’ve been played – “It’s handmade?”

“Smiling is universal,” they say,

but in this instance, as I pay,

it only colors our relationship gray,

a gray tinged with green

as the factor of cash seen

turns the space in between

from potential pal to money machine

 

The great prophet of capitalism, the invisible hand

the proselytes of progress, the Tata name brand,

and a government eager to give business a hand –

they’ve changed this land,

just as its religious forebears made their own stand.

 

What is sacred? What is profane?

Elephant rides or the truth of a train?

The rites of a ritual or the rights of the people?

Or are they the same?

 

and so I ask you again,

as mantras and dogmas begin now to blend

but in India the Gunga still flows to its end –

What is sacred? …it depends.

 

-Harrison Horst, India, Spring 2018

 


Kenya 2018


Lithuania

Today is Sunday June 3, 2018. We all went to church and it was a good service. We just got back from our week-long trip to Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn. It was very interesting to see the architecture and learn about the history about these cities. There are many monuments and museums that hold tons of information. A lot of photos were taken, and we all enjoyed our time. The cities are beautiful, and it would be a place to visit again. Now we all have a lot of photos to edit for our assignments that are due in the coming weeks. The experiences that we have all encountered during this trip were powerful.

We visited a lot of places that were memorial sites for the people who gave their lives for freedom for their people and country. There were other sites that remembered the people who were executed because of their faith and race. These sites help paint the picture that injustices are all around us, but if we can stick together we can make a change. The people in these times were committed to their goal for unity. These people were selfless and thought about others before themselves. I feel a lot of us learned what it means to sacrifice and fight for what you believe in on this trip. I am glad we all could experience this.

-Isaiah Harris-Winn


Exploring Paraguay: Asuncion to the Chaco


Montage of India

Through Post-neomodern Art
-Yelisey Shapovalov
I present to you the best of India through the art form that we millenials connect with most: selfies. My efforts began with the aspirations of sharing my adventures with my parents who are largely responsible for my being here; however, it turned out that they weren’t satisfied with a picture if my face wasn’t in it. Some parents gave their children nice warm jackets, new hiking backpacks, or a wad of cash, but mine gave me a selfie stick. So it began…