Before I get into the museum and the long chat in Xushenmeshenme Park I should get down to Wang Yen. She’s the sister of Holly’s friend Wang Yi (from Nanchong) who lives in Shanghai. Holly’d been told to give her a call if she was ever in town and there we were. In town. So Holly called in the morning and commented on how Wang Yen sounded just like Wang Yi on the phone (and she could tell Wang Yen had very good English so that was a plus). That evening we met up with her near a subway stop. When she called to find out where we were Holly said we were right by the KFC. “But there are so many KFCs in (insert district name)!” It worked out.
Wang Yen is a small woman, sort of compressed, no stooped against the world. Her hair was curled in such a way it fell around her face like a wig one of those 50’s movie stars might wear. She had freckles and was very thin. She looked down a lot. Or maybe that was just me.
After determining everyone liked spicy food we set out down and around the block, ending up at a multistorey restaurant with black walls, white tablecloths and red everything else. It may have been called China Red or The Colour of China. It had little lajiaos [hot peppers] painted all over. Wang Yen ordered far too much food (of course). There were sweet and sour ribs, beef and young bamboo, shuiju fish, a pork and seaweed soup, and yuxiang qiezi [eggplant in a sweet spicy sauce] but all binged up on each finger of a fan. I mean the eggplant was sliced into little strips but connected up at the stalk(?) end and all those tiny fingers were dipped in the breading/deep-fried. Then yuxiang sauce went all over it. Delicious. Best part of a return to China’s first meal.
But before we began eating Wang Yen asked if we wanted to pray. Holly said grace asking for all sorts of blessings to people friends food safe travels and communication. It sounded like she meant it. Now, whenever I’ve been involved in pre-meal praying in China it’s been because I was with CEEers or with Chinese people who “knew that’s what westerners do.” (Of course, part of that is because I never went down to Scott and Emily’s when they had the nuns over. I imagine they said grace then.) I assumed Wang Yen was in the second camp, but she emphatically wasn’t.
Wang Yen was a Christian herself. When Holly’d phoned earlier in the day Wang Yen had said “I’m so looking forward to talking to you about your work.” Holly at the time wasn’t sure if that was mere politeness or genuine interest. But she was interested. Wang Yen sincerely believes in the gospel. The gospel there is her term; the sincerely is mine. And it’s no wonder really. She’s had a hard time of it and isn’t exactly thriving in societal ways. Holly had asked early in the meal about Wang Yen’s roommates or boyfriend or husband and the tiny Chinese woman stopped, looked down at her lap and said she’d been divorced.
So we bounded off into other conversation. (And by we, I mean Holly. I’m doing my best to keep up but I’m a listener not a talker.) Later though, she came back to the divorce which came about because she “failed to produce a child” (which everyone in the family was highly desirous of). And since then she’d gotten involved in volunteer counselling and had been trained a small amount (in roleplaying exercises or what have you). What I’m curious about now, but neglected to ask at the time was whether her Christianization happened before or after the divorce. She talked about the different churches she went to, both official and community/house churches and how she preferred the churches that listened instead of just talked all the time. She really connected the idea of church and “the gospel” with therapeutic counselling, which seems well, I’d be wary of such a confluence in North America.
And I think part of the reason I’d be wary of it is because of how you could see it would affect people like this woman who’d been living in Shanghai for 12 years (making her probably 34 or thereabouts. And for once she was a Chinese woman who didn’t seem 12 because of her size. Maybe it was her stoop or freckles but she looked 34. Did she think Holly and I were unbearably young?). She spoke openly about god directing her to do things and when we talked about her job (designing circuitboards for DVD recorders to convert digital to analog and back) she said she was still working at it even though she’d lost her passion because she had to make payments on the loan for her apartment. But if God called her to quit her job she would. And she was so honest and so lonely that you wondered what would happen if god didn’t say anything. And (worse?) what if someone actually said what god wanted from her?
She wants to do something with counselling in her life. She sees it as a way to share the gospel which she really believes needs spreading. And as we sat in her bedroom with its floral pink wallpaper and upholstery, plastic sealing the chair cushion and footstool I felt so sad for her. She was so desperate and so trapped. Her new tiny apartment looked barely lived in (which was true since she’d only just moved in) and she’d paid a decent price which she saw as God’s grace. And now she’s putting her hope in the Zhi Mian counselling institute, that it might give her something to do with her life, to be talking to people instead of staring at a monitor. And it’s uncertain how she can be fit in.
She walked us to the subway station and Holly got us tickets. She hugged Holly and I shook her hand. She waved down to us as the escalator lowered us down and away.counselling food holly kfc shanghai the hangman wang yen zhi mian