We started the second day by praying that we’ll find some friends at church today. We had so many questions… What do we do about a cell phone? How do we keep a flow of drinkable water coming to our apartment without buying a few bottles at a time? How do we find dishwasher detergent? etc. etc…
We looked up where church is on the website, and it seemed fairly close. It gave us the address 1 Xibahe South St. Church started at 10:30am, so we decided we’ll leave about 9:30am to give us plenty of time. We’ve missed the last two Sundays due to travel, and we were determined to make it to this sacrament meeting on time.
We were downstairs by 9:35am and I asked the apartment front desk guy if he could get us a taxi. He said that it’s Chinese New Year’s and we can’t get a taxi. OK, plan B. We went back upstairs and bundled up for a significant walk. We packed Andrew in a stroller and we were going to try the subway. Honestly, this was my preference. I like the subway. There is no one to talk to. We just get our token, and we’re off. The subway has everything labeled in English. I made the best reproduction of the google maps that the church provided on a notepad and headed down the elevator. It was now about 9:45am. It was frigid cold outside. We got out to the main street about a 1/3 of the way to the subway station, and saw a taxi. We got in the taxi, and I pulled out a map of Beijing and pointed to the location we wanted to get to. The cab driver said some stuff I didn’t understand, then started driving. I thought this was a good sign.
We knew that the church did not own any buildings in Beijing, and the branch met in a rented hall. It just so happens that I looked up some information about the branch on Saturday night, and it showed me a picture of the building that the church met in. It was tall and had a lot of windows.
As we drove near where I thought the church was, there was a problem. Google Maps and the address were not jiving. We saw a sign for Xibahe South Rd., but it was nowhere near where the map said it was supposed to be. We weren’t sure which was correct, but I was willing to bet on the address more than the map. We turned into Xibahe South Rd., then started looking for numbers. We saw a tall building with the number 6 on it. We asked the taxi driver to stop, and for a few minutes tried to ask him to find number 1. He was friendly and smiled, but he didn’t know where it was. We decided that we’re probably close, and we’ll try to find it on foot from here. It was a few minutes past 10am. Caleb was dead asleep. We put him in the stroller and I strapped Andrew in the front carrier and we started walking south. We huddled up for a prayer and pleaded that we might be led to the church. We were desperate to get to a sacrament meeting, we were desperate for friends, we were desperate for familiarity.
We got a lot of looks from passers. One lady even yelled at us because Caleb’s pants were pulled up a bit exposing his shin to the bitter cold. After a quarter mile or so, we found a building labeled 23. We decided we were going the wrong way, and started walking back up north. Tenille approached a Chinese lady and asked her in Chinese "#1 Where?" She said some things we didn’t understand, then pointed in the direction we were walking. That was a good sign. After about half a mile of walking, we found a building labeled 4, then 3. Then we got to a big intersection with a tall building on every corner. They all had windows. After some hemming and hawing, we just chose the closest tall building and thought we’d start from there. There was a parking guard post, and a young guard came out and started asking us questions. He was probably about 20 years old. We tried the best we could to say "1 Xibahe Road." We said it over and over. He said a bunch of things we didn’t understand, then called a lady that was walking out of the building over to try and help us. We said the same things to her over and over "1 Xibahe Rd." She said a whole bunch of things we didn’t understand… Then the guard offered me to come into the guard shack. They were both concerned about Andrew in the cold and wanted me to warm up. I obliged and stayed for a few minutes while Tenille was making some conversation with the lady and the guard. After a few minutes, I decided that this was definitely not the place, and walked out of the guard shack. Tenille seemed like she was finishing up her conversation as well, and we walked across the street to the other tall building. This building had no number. It didn’t seem like the type of building that the church would rent. At this point, there was one other building to try, but it was across a main arterial, and we had to take the stroller up to a high pedestrian overpass. (Lots of stairs, no elevator…) We were all freezing.
We made a plan. We would try this last building. After this last building, we would consider going to the location that Google maps pointed to. Perhaps the address was a mistake, and the map was correct? By the time we got to the pedestrian bridge, we were on the brink of giving up. We were incredibly cold, and I’m sure the children were both freezing. We saw some Korean letters on a Hair Salon business. We thought that before we made the treacherous trip up and over the pedestrian bridge with a stroller, I would talk to my people and see if they could provide any assistance. We were desperate for help and wished that someone would just give us a clue. I entered the Salon, and tried my best to ask in Chinese if they spoke Korean. The receptionist lady gave me a blank stare. The hair cutter must have seen our desperation, and came over. He claimed that he could speak some Korean, but I could tell that it was limited. Even more limited than my 4 year-old Korean abilities. I explained the best I could in Korean that we’re trying to find our church and we’re looking for 1 Xibahe Rd. The hair cutter looked at our map, shrugged, then said, "I’m sorry." It was at least nice to hear an English word. We went back out into the cold, and resumed our plan to cross the pedestrian bridge. On the side of the stairs, there was a 1-foot wide ramp on each side. We put one set of stroller wheels along the ramp, and I lifted the other side, and we climbed up the bridge to make it to the other side. As we approached the building, our hope was dwindling because of the bitter cold. If this was not it, we were likely not going to continue the search. I encouraged Tenille, "I’m sure this is the building." It was tall and had windows…. just like the other two buildings… Then, we saw the number. It was 4. Any hope that remained was extinguished. Clearly, we didn’t understand how the Chinese address numbering system worked, because we just passed a 4 (and a 3). This street seemed to go endlessly in both directions, and we had no idea how the buildings were numbered.
Discouraged, we decided we’d go inside the building anyway, and if we can’t find it, then we’d head home. When we got to the main door, a young white man in a suit was unloading a baby from a taxi. I blurted in excitement, "Are you Mormon?" He looked at me for a moment, then said "yes."
"It’s a miracle!" I shouted. My wife had to explain our ordeal, and he replied as he was helping his wife out the taxi, "This is the place." We followed the couple and exchanged some niceties.
It ended up that church was on the fourth floor, and there was no obvious indication on the first floor that the church was anywhere in this building. If we would not have seen this couple, we would have looked inside, then left for home.
Once we got there, everything was the way it should be. It ended up that the speakers were the mother and father of a dear friend, Dave Evans. It was the their last weekend in Beijing, and they were taking on a new post at BYU to coordinate and professor exchange with China. We met several people that we’ve exchanged emails with, but have never met face to face. I met a few Microsoft employees, and one that used to work on the project that I am now on. We met a few ladies that work at the preschool that we will be sending Caleb to. We even got a ride home from the Carpenters who is a fellow Microsoft employee. They later took us to a Chinese New Year party, where we met more branch members in a social setting. Tenille came home with a pile of phone numbers and email addresses and what seems like plans for the next few weeks. I’ve never fully appreciated the social benefits of being an LDS church member, but it’s difficult to imagine a place where within 8 hours you feel like you instantly have so many people looking out for you, and that you know people that you’ve never actually met before. We’re finally home.
Leading up to the trip, we’ve been asking a lot of people from China what there is to do for New Year’s eve? The answer has always been "nothing." Everyone goes home to spend time with the family. We were wondering if there were fireworks that we could go see. It ends up that the fireworks come to you. There are fireworks stands on almost every corner. We’re talking serious fireworks. Boom City type fireworks… Mortars and all. Free access to all in Beijing. What ends up happening is that from about 5pm on, it is a non-stop barrage in the city. I can look out my window and see fireworks going up on almost every corner. The fireworks do not clear the tall buildings, so huge blossoms are exploding between almost every building, often no more than 30 feet from the side of a building. We’re on the 16th floor, and that’s about the height that the mortars explode. It’s hard to describe how much and how constant the fireworks are going off until much past midnight. Even at the New Years party, our branch had their own stash of fireworks, and all the kids and adults started lighting off fireworks. It was Independence Day without regard to rules and safety – the way it was meant to be celebrated… except it was in China. Rumor is that the fireworks rage on every evening for the next 3 weeks.