So John was in town with his folks over the weekend, and I had the pleasure of hanging out with him while his parents and wife visited the Forbidden City. John was quite understandably unenthused at the prospect of visiting the Forbidden City a third time. It may have been the seat of power for hundreds of years, but the imperial city now is a sadly diminished thing, flooded with hawkers, stalls selling instant noodles, and tour groups domestic and foreign. The city is laid out along a strict grid pattern, and after a while you get to feeling – in the words of Poagao – like you’re walking around a gigantic DOOM level. (The Forbidden City would make for an awesome game map, particularly when you consider that it was suppoedly designed to represent the five viscera of the god Nezha. But more on that, maybe, in another post.)

Anyway, so John bailed on that and we got coffee and bought pirated Playstation 2 games near my place. His wife’s family had arranged a private driver for their stay in Beijing over the weekend, so he called the driver to come pick him up. As we stood waiting on the corner of Jiaodaokou, a young couple approached us.
Shit, I thought. It’s going to be an ‘art student’ scam, or they’ll be touts for one of the godawful new bars near here, or something. I haven’t gotten harassed in years, and it has to happen now? Now John’ll never believe that Beijing is ten times the city Shanghai is!

The girl asked, in shy English, what we were doing. I replied, in English calculated to be polite without encouraging further conversation, that we were waiting for John’s friend’s car.
“Oh,” she said, and giggled nervously, looking over at her boyfriend.
“Um,” he said. “Where are you from?”
“The US,” I said. Jesus, English Corner flashback.
“Ah,” he said. “Are you…Christian?”
“No,” I said.
“Um. Ah — would — would you like to be?”
“No,” I said. “But thanks.”
“Ah,” he said. “God…bless you.”
“Thanks,” I said. “Take care.”

And the two of them walked off down Andingmen Nei.

Worst. Missionaries. Ever.

27 thoughts on “missionaries

  1. What? A post? We had a pool going and I had July 4th….Damn…

    anyways, I had the same thing happen to me in a tiny little town near TangShan. The owner of the bar was trying to convert me. I told her she needed to pick one of the two occupations….

  2. Worst ever? I say best ever. They asked what they needed to, didn’t get it, and left. I wish more missionaries were like that. Though I guess they’re not scoring many conversion points.

  3. LaoLao — sorry to disappoint. I figured that having updated my Chinese blog last week I might as well update the English one too.

    Chris — Yeah, I was referring more to the conversion thing rather than their general attitude. They were perfectly nice and left us alone after I said I wasn’t interested in being converted, which is all you can ask from missionaries, I guess.

    西关东街 — I’m sure they were very nice people, and if Christianity is working for them, then that’s great. I just meant that they don’t seem to be very good at converting people.

  4. Brendan,
    Love it. I remember an attempted conversion by a pair of pre-pubescent Americans on the streets of Dublin (Dame St. to be precise) – must have been ’92 or thereabouts. I was winding my way from a Cajun restaurant to an ATM, and back again. When I told them I was perfectly happy without their (or anyone else’s) God, they told me that they felt sorry for me.

    Which was nice. Can’t have enough folks feeling sorry for you – never know when you’ll need it.

  5. Thanks for the quote. I stand by it. By the way, you linked to my film production blog instead of my regular one at poagao.org/pjournal

    I’m still planning on taking another look at Beijing, but I think I’ll wait until after the Olympics.

  6. I must confess, I left Beijing with the distinct feeling that it is not ten times the city that Shanghai is.

    BTW, after I got in the van and drove away, I spotted the (deflated) phantom basketball about 500 meters up the street.

  7. Agreed. The Forbidden City is a huge letdown. And anyway, all its finest items are safely laid away in Taiwan’s National Palace Museum.

    Re the missionaries, just the fact that you were waylaid by native missionaries is a sign of how far things have come. They may lack the pestering skills now, but like everything else in China, just give them a few years.

  8. @The Other Brendan: Yeah, we export those. It’s funny — I had a pretty irreligious upbringing, so I’m always surprised to see that most other Americans aren’t, you know, the same way.

    @John: I’d almost forgotten about the phantom basketball. Man, I bet some kid somewhere is still sad about that.

    @poagao: D’oh. Sorry; will fix. I thought something looked off there.

    @carlos: Man, I’m lucky to have gotten out of high school when I did.

  9. The missionaries are all over here in Fuzhou. Here’s a conversation I have had at least ten times.

    Chinese friend: So, are you a Christian?

    me: No, are you? (I usually don’t tell them I’m Jewish upfront, or that unleashes an entire new barrage of questions)

    Chinese friend: Yes.

    me: How did you decide to become a Christian?

    Chinese friend: I had a really friendly English teacher. He used to tell me stories about Jesus. One day he asked me to accept Jesus and I said “yes.” So now I am a Christian.

    aiii yaaa!!!

  10. Brendan (Peeling),

    I have some information for your trip later this year, but I cannot leave a comment on your blog. How could I contact you?

  11. I’d say they were pretty damn brave doing that, what with facing three years of joy in the Lao Gai for proselytizing and all. I say good on ‘em…

    But go away.

  12. Sign of the times: Ethnic-Chinese Christian missionaries approaching foreigners–in China. It’s like the spiritual equivalent of Starbucks in the Forbidden City. An impasse in cultural imperialism or merely modernity? Hard to tell. But I’m glad they were more polite than the typical American-breed of street evangelist.

  13. What happens if you tell the missionaries that “no-one takes Jesus seriously anymore” in the West?

    Hopefully a passing fad. For me, “Less religion” is definitely a feature of China, not a bug.

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