China Diary - Part 2

The initial shock seems to have worn off. I am beginning
to learn the language and I have soooo many new friends.

August 8, 2006

Wonderful News! We have a place to go on Sunday mornings! Below is the email we got within a couple of hours of our first visit to Suzhou International Fellowship -- Sun. Aug. 6. According to Phillip Kellerman's wife Darlene  (Phillip is SIF's leader. He wrote the email below.), Phillip has retired five times. He can't seem to get it right. They've lived in Asia for many years -- including Tibet. They're originally from Tennessee. What interesting people!

And what an interesting way to spend a Sunday morning. Mark and I got up early, dressed in our Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes, even though we'd heard wearing shorts and T-shirts was fine, and went to breakfast at the clubhouse that serves our apartment complex. There we ate with Allen, the person who'd told us about SIF. Allen, his wife Sarah, and their 3 sons live in a house behind our apartment building. Sarah and the boys are in Canada (their home) for the summer.

At 8:55, a nice, air-conditioned bus pulled in front of the clubhouse. Mark and I boarded as did  Allen and several other people from our little community.

Mark and I struck up a conversation with the Dedericks. The man (can't recall his name) works for Honeywell. His 3-year job in Suzhou is ending, and the family (originally from Arizona) is moving to Alabama. They'll be taking a new family member with them -- Hannah (I don't remember her Chinese name), a little girl (age 3 or 4) they're adopting from the local orphanage where the mom, Lori, has been volunteering since moving here. Hannah has spina bifida, and the Dedericks want to give her the medical care and opportunities she'd never get here. They've already financed one surgery for her in Shanghai. No one wants her except the Dedericks. They've been bringing her to their house in Suzhou for four-day visits for a long time. To make their story even more sensational -- the Dedericks already have five children. The oldest is married and in the U.S. The other four -- ages 12 and up, are here with their parents. I plan to meet Hannah and write a story about her and the Dedericks. I'll share it with you.

The bus stopped a few times as we made our way to the other side of town -- about a 45 min. trip -- and people got on, including the Kellermans. Our destination was a government building. There, we took an elevator to an upper floor. That's where SIF has use of an auditorium. In the hallway, we talked with the Kellermans as well as others. All are from other countries -- mostly U.S. and Singapore. We met one couple, Brenda and David, who I think are from Minnesota. David lives here, but Brenda does not. She comes to visit for a couple of weeks at a time. They have three grown children and young grandchildren. I don't think Brenda can convince herself to leave her children and grandchildren.

After much chit-chatting, we went into the auditorium for what I'd describe as a contemporary "event." We sang several contemporary songs -- all beautiful -- and then sang Blessed Assurance. A man played a grand piano. We were informed by a Singaporean man, who served as something like an MC for pre-service music, that the piano was there because of a recital that had just occurred in the auditorium. SIF doesn't usually have access to the piano. Mark said someone told him SIF usually relies on a keyboard for music.

I particularly liked four things about the physical environment: the lighting was excellent, so I could see to take notes; the seats were VERY comfortable -- first-class; the temperature was comfortable -- not too hot, not too cold; and people with small children kept them quiet. There even were two newborns there, and we never heard them. The last row is reserved for families with small children. SMART!!! We did hear a cell phone twice -- Surprise, Surprise -- but at least the person didn't talk to the caller.

Phillip's talk was good. Then we sang some more. Mark and I had to stand and introduce ourselves and tell where we are from. It's weird to say "United States" all the time instead of North Carolina. People don't know what country a place called "North Carolina" is in -- unless they're college basketball fans -- Tarheel fans, of course. There were other new people -- a couple from Malaysia and a guy from somewhere else.  I don't always understand people, even if they're speaking English.

Afterward, I met Lee, who's from Singapore. She was with her children. Her husband was on a business trip. I wanted to talk to more people outside the auditorium, but we had to catch the bus.

On the return trip, Mark and I talked to Peter and Grace from Singapore. They live in a house behind our apartment building. They have two or three children. They told us most people send their children to the international school, but that they knew a couple who sent their kids to the local Chinese school. The children knew no Chinese. They heard nothing in English at the school. Peter said they came home crying sometimes, but they persevered, and now they're doing very well, speak Chinese well, and love it. According to Peter, the Chinese school is quite good.

We also talked to Eric, who's from Singapore. Eric lives about halfway between where we live and the location of the building where SIF meets. Everybody we meet is in China for the same reasons Mark is.

We're looking forward to returning to SIF next Sunday. There also is a study group for women I may join, one for men (early Sat. a.m.????), and a  couples group that meets in Peter and Grace's home. Maybe we'll visit it sometime. We hope to spend an evening with Brenda and David this week before Brenda returns to the U.S. David's company makes clutches and brakes. Very exciting.

All in all, I have to say that discovering SIF has been my most exciting and happiest moment since moving to Suzhou.

A picture of Mark with most of the staff he's hired thus far. We had dinner with them tonight, and they're a great bunch. Lots of fun. Very supportive of my attempts at speaking Chinese. Most of them can speak English. Some just a couple of words.
The missing one is Larry (Mark named him. Mo and Curly haven't been hired yet.)


Derick S. Hartshorn - 2006-present
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