Her name is Liu Xuan, but she goes by the English nickname of Holiday, and she is a delight! I first met Holiday on the Harding University campus in August of 2017 at one of the newcomer mixers for the Chinese students.
Holiday was very excited to be there and had a smile that could brighten anybody’s day. She was a bit shy but very willing, it seemed, to step outside of her comfort zone to make new friends. When I told her my Chinese name, Xie Yeye, she giggled. “That’s not really your name is it?” She inquired as she smiled even bigger. I told her in a tone that she knew I was teasing when I said, “Yes, I was born with that name. How about you, is Holiday your real name?” More laughter ensued. When I asked her what her real Chinese name was, she informed me that I would not be able to pronounce it. “Oh, try me,” I said. Holiday replied, “Liu Xuan is my name.” “First of all I said, Yes, I can pronounce that,” and I proceeded to pronounce it perfectly. Liu Xuan was so surprised, and asked how I did I know that? I’m asked that a lot by my Chinese students and my standard reply to that is to say in Chinese, “Wo shi Xie Yeye!”
Holiday was a fourth year college student that had just transferred to Harding from Xi’an Medical University, in Xi’an, Shaanxi, China, where she was majoring in English. XMU, like many other universities in China, allows a student to spend their last year somewhere abroad, and count that as credit towards her graduation from their university. Holiday wanted to pursue a master’s degree in Education somewhere and then go back to China to teach English. Her English was pretty good, but she had not yet passed the IELTS or the TOEFL (English proficiency tests), so she could not do more at Harding than this year as an exchange student. She took 12 hours each semester, Principles of Communication, some ESL classes and a couple of intro classes for her education degree, then went back to Xi’an to graduate, and decide about graduate school. Holiday just fell in love with Harding, its weather, (read BLUE skies), its facilities and our people. She loved the teachers and other students, both Chinese and American. And they loved her! But what’s not to love? She is warm and friendly and can break any communication barrier with her smile. Holiday is home this summer studying very hard to pass her English test so that she can return to Harding to get her master’s degree in Education: Teaching English as a Second Language.
When Holiday found out that I had a fondness for the Chinese students and could speak a little bit of Mandarin she always sought me out in our social gatherings, or when she saw me across campus to come and talk to me. Then she found out that I travel to China during the summers and sometimes for the very purpose of visiting some Harding Chinese students. Holiday asked me almost every time I saw her if I would come to her hometown to visit her and her family? She always followed that request up with, “I know you’re busy and I don’t live in one of the big cities, I live in a very small town. So, I understand if you cannot come see me, but I would like for you to visit me in China one day. I would like to show you my hometown.”
It seemed like this same conversation happened about a dozen times in the next eight months or so… until I told her, Yes, I would come to visit her and her family in her hometown! She squealed with delight, holding her hands over her face and bouncing up and down on her tip-toes in disbelief! “Really?” she said. “Yep, tell me where you live, I responded.” I was planning on going to Xi’an and I knew she lived near there. I knew I could take a day or two go by her hometown and see what I could see. I always wanted to go to a more rural, small town village and she seemed to indicate that is where she lived… Or so I understood. “Oh, I live in a small town… Lingbao. Great, I said, How small? I don’t know, just small. I inquired more, is it the same size town as Searcy? Oh, no. She said it's a lot bigger that Searcy but I don’t know how big it is.” “No problem,” I said, “I can look it up later.” When I got back to my computer later that evening I was telling my wife about this and decided to look it up. Lingbao, in the Henen province, has 720,000 residents! That’s what passes for a small town in China!
As the time grew closer for the semester to end and I had my itinerary coming together I inquired again if it was OK for me to come see her and her family? I made sure that she had cleared this with her parents. Because I had never been there, and didn’t know of Lingbao at all before Holiday, I asked if she or they could make me a hotel reservation for one night and I could pay for the room when I arrived? Yes, she said, my parents will take care of it. Great, I’ll be there Wednesday, May 16th. I’ll take the train from Xi’an and let you know what time the train is scheduled to arrive as soon as I buy my ticket (in China).
Holiday wanted to know what I wanted to do in Lingbao while I was there? Well, until I met Liu Xuan, I had never even heard of Lingbao, so I really had no idea what there was to do. She said we could go to the place where Daoism was first founded. While I am no religious philosopher in the order of some of my Harding Colleagues, I do consider myself a semi-well informed, spiritually intelligent person and had known of Daoism, but never really could have defined it very well before this opportunity. I really intended to do more research on this before I actually showed up…. But alas, my plans never were executed.
Lingbao, as it turns out, really is the location of the origin of Daoism. Daoism is a philosophy developed and written by the very famous Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. Daoism is “the Chinese philosophy to signify the fundamental or true nature of the world: simplicity and selflessness in conformity with the Tao, leading a life of non-purposive action, a life expressing the essence of spontaneity. Taoism, also known as Daoism, arose about the same time as Confucianism.” (Wikipedia)
I arrived via the fast train from Xi’an and the time on the train was about 50 minutes. The high speed trains in China travel about 200 miles per hour and there was only one stop between Xi’an and Lingbao. So, it could be estimated that it was less than two hundred miles southeast of Xi’an. It was on the way to my next scheduled city stop of Wuhan so taking a day out to visit Lingbao was something that was fairly easy for me to do. And, I wanted to do this for Holiday!
Holiday and her father were standing in my line of sight when I passed through the exit turn-styles out on to the arrival area of LingbaoXi. Holiday was furiously waving at me. Her father welcomed me warmly as I shook his hand and introduced myself to him. Maybe because I did so in Chinese he relaxed a bit. After the normal questions, “How was the trip? Are you hungry? and such, we walked to his car where Holiday’s Momma was there and we went through the same motions of communication. I can never remember my student’s parent’s names because they don’t have English names, so I just called them what I usually do, in this case, Xuan’s Mamma, or Xuan’s Babba! They always seem to laugh a little when I do this.
Xuan’s Babba was anxious to show me his hometown of Laodi, Henen, (different from Laodi, Hunan). Laodi really was a very small town. It was village like with only one main street passing through many residents stood or sat out in front of their houses that also doubled as a mushroom farm. These mushrooms are unique to this area of China and is sold around the world. Xuan’s told me that there was a lot of money in those mushroom fields but it looked and felt like a very poor town with rural agricultural residents. There were also a lot of fruit trees that were obviously planted for harvest large amounts of peaches, and apricots. Finally, we stopped at a local tourism site. We were the only ones there. I think normally there would have been a tourism entry fee but Holidays Dad talked to someone he probably had Guanxi with and we walked in. It was apparently some sort of ancient temple and tombs of the local town’s ancestors. It was pretty amazing even though it was not very well kept. It had beautiful views of the valley below it. This area of China also had an abundant supply of minerals, such as Iron Ore, Coal and GOLD! As I looked out over the valley there was a very long train rolling through the hills below in a very beautiful scene of nature and industry coming together.
I knew that Holiday’s Mamma and Babba were going to take me to lunch in Lingbao. I was pleasantly surprised when it wasn’t a big fancy restaurant like many of the Chinese parents take me to when I visit their children. It was more like a local café with common looking working class and a wait staff that were not necessarily beautiful women, well dressed and coiffed as some nicer restaurants normally have. It really felt like a piece of the everyday life, and I loved it! Holiday’s parents ordered some vegetable and a sliced meat (maybe lamb or beef) type of appetizer dishes. We got up and walked over to a display of a variety of vegetables that we got to choose before the staff tossed them in some vinegar and soy sauce. I was surprised that these dishes were served cold. Rarely is anything served cold in China. When we returned to the table our four dishes of noodles we had ordered had arrived. It was also served cold. It was so much food, I felt bad about leaving so much, but apparently that’s normal.
Holiday and her parents took me to my hotel for which they had prearranged and unfortunately they had also prepaid for! I always tell my students that I don’t want then to pay for my expenses and I that I would prefer me doing this myself. I mean paying for dinner is one thing, but paying for a nice hotel is just too much. But, the bill had been paid, and I graciously accepted because to insist otherwise would have been culturally unacceptable and rude.
Mr. Liu went back to his office to work, Holiday and her mamma went home for Chinese rest, and I, having become very fond of Chinese rest, settled into a comfortable room and an even more comfortable bed for a nap. Holiday asked me when I wanted them to come back so she and her Momma could show me the highlights of the “small town” they call home, Lingbao, (again, 720,000 people).
Holiday and her Mamma returned right on time as I had requested at 4:00 p.m. I asked where they were going to take me. “Somewhere very special to Lingbao and someplace that I think you will like!” “Why do you think I will like it,” I inquired? “Because you are a strong Christian,” she replied. “It is the origin of Daoism,” saying this like I was very knowledgeable of Daoism.
Little did I know, but was able to learn throughout the afternoon, that Holiday’s Nai Nai (grandmother) was a Christian and Holiday grew with her grandmother taking her to the local protestant, Three-Self Church. Even though Holiday went to church occasionally growing up she was not a Christian, and neither were her parents, and she had never considered the possibility of becoming a believer… until she arrived at Harding University. She absolutely fell in love with our fellowship, our love for each other, our spirits and zeal for the Lord. Many of her Chinese friends discouraged her from becoming interested yet some of her friends encouraged her to find out more. She attended our Chinese church/worship regularly where she was able to learn more about God in a less formal environment than the Bible class that is taught at Harding, for which we have a section just for Chinese students.
With the location background of Daoism and the relations she had with Christianity I decided it was a good ice breaker into her developing faith. “Tell me about your faith Holiday. What do you believe about God? Has your view changed since you started studying the Bible more?” (albeit for a college credit class) and many more such questions that were more purposely driven to be a conversation and not an inquiry. She spoke candidly and openly. She had many questions but was waiting patiently for the answers because she knew that she could not make such great decisions quickly, and that real knowledge comes with time, study and help! “Will you help me understand God Xie Yeye, she inquired earnestly? Oh my, (I was hold back welling my eyes up with tears), I live for moments like this. I knew right then and there that God sent me to Lingbao to lead Holiday to Him!
I remember one of the best sermons that I ever listened to was on this very generic subject. That God was placing people that are looking for Him in our paths so that we could find them and in turn we could lead them to find God! I knew this was such a moment. And, who knows, that I wasn’t born, or at least placed here on this day, for such a time as this?
“Yes, Holiday, I will. Where shall we start?”
After a moment of pause and reflection, she said “Tell me about Shang Di (God). I mean I know, or think I know, who God is but people tell me he will never leave me. How do I know this? I don’t even know that he IS with me. Can you feel God in you Xie Yeye?”
How’s that for a first set of questions? Then I remembered the story of Li Chenyang, Hope, and how she had prayed to God and He answered her plea’s long before she realized that He had done so. I told Holiday to simply look around her. She had been in a place that could arguably be one of the great learning centers of Christianity in the present world, Harding University. She had friends, colleagues and teachers who were Christians that loved and cared her. Why did you choose Harding and why am I here with you today? God has brought you to this very day to see Him working in you and the lives of those about you. You may not find God in a vision, or in a loud audible voice, or even physically feel his presence, but I promise you God is with you. God is with you in many ways. He is leading you, taking care of you, and giving you every day that you wake up. You have been given a great opportunity Holiday, and now you must open your eyes to see God moving about in your life. God has given you Hope for a better tomorrow.
I can’t wait for the fall semester so I can introduce Holiday to Hope.
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Steve Shaner, also known as Xie Yeye, is a professional story teller that delights in traveling to meet new and old friends. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.