Usually, illegal parties contain an illicit cocktail of sex drugs and rock and roll. This party had none of the above.
Roll all the way back to when I first came to China, I was fresh off the boat (not literally, I flew here) and super naïve. I had made a few friends already, a mixture of my colleagues and local people but of course I’m always looking to meet new people. So, when I heard a new foreign teacher was coming to our school, I was intrigued.
I seemed to be unofficially put in charge of this new teacher; show him the sights teach him what’s what around here. He was in his late 50s so I thought it might be hard to find a connection, but we might have some shared interests right?
Luckily he liked talking, I like listening, so it worked out, plus he was a nice guy.
On the second day he tells me he would like to introduce me to his friend. I was confused, he’d only been here for such a short time, how could he have met this friend already? What has he been up to?
It turned out they met online before he arrived. It also turned out that this friend was a young African that had been in China for several years after being selected for a scholarship at a local university. He didn’t have an overall positive view of China, which he made abundantly clear.
I thought nothing of why this young African guy and this old English guy had connected online and become friends, but they obviously had and shortly after I met him he had invited me to a party for international students later on in the week.
I hadn’t been to any parties yet in China so I was interested as to how this would unfold, however it was on a school night(yeah I’m a square, whatever). So I said I would think about it. My colleague told me he was going and the African guy even said he would take us there… so there were no excuses – I was going.
The day of the party arrives and the guy takes us on the bus to the location.
At about 7pm.
I guess being fashionably late isn’t a thing here.
I didn’t bring any alcohol because I wasn’t sure of the BYOB etiquette. The guy had told us there would be things to eat and drink there anyway.
We get off the bus and walk to the university. I thought this was strange – universities in china usually have a curfew of anywhere between 10pm – midnight. Bit earlier than parties I’m used to but it’s a different culture so I ignore it and keep going.
We walk in and it seems to be held in a single dorm. We open the door and it’s eerily quiet apart from two other Africans having a heated discussion about something or other. I wasn’t listening I was distracted by the girl offering me a slice of orange and some fruit squash, whilst another found me a chair to sit on.
I sat down and looked around the room. In a group of around 20 people, it appeared my colleague and I were the only non-Africans at this party.
I finish my free squash and then one of the men who were arguing when I arrived announces that its time to begin.
That’s the most formal beginning to a party I ever heard, I thought. Everyone was rummaging around in their bags. I look around. They were all getting something out. A book.
The Holy Bible.
It was at this point I realised this was not going to be anything like the parties I’m used to.
I was also fairly relieved that I didn’t bring any alcohol to this party.
I need my colleague’s help so that we can plan how we are going to sneak away from here. I look over – he has his own bible on his lap with annotated sticky notes!
It was all a setup!
Everything became much clearer now. They must have become friends through some online Christian group thing. It was in a secret dorm room as it’s not allowed to practise Christianity outside official churches here in China. There was no music or alcohol because, well, it wasn’t a party…
So I had to plan my escape alone. I looked behind me the rows of chairs blocked my exit. I didn’t even know which bus to take back. It seemed like I was here for good. Maybe I could sneak out when they had a break. Do these kinds of things even have breaks?! God knows! Oops, maybe I should keep the blasphemy on the low for a while…
So we start of proceedings by going round the group and offering up our favourite quote and why it is so special to us.
I rack my brain trying to think of a quote I can even remember, let alone a favourite one.
I start to hope that maybe I can reuse one of the early ones and hope everyone forgot it before it comes round to me.
It’s my turn so I spurt out a heavily paraphrased version of :
“when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
– 1 Corinthians 13:11
I tell them it had a special meaning to me because “I stopped doing things that I did when I was a child when I became a man and so, therefore, it fits my life.” I look around the room, half embarrassed that this was the best I could come up with and half hoping they wouldn’t pry any further and discover me to be the phoney I was.
Thankfully, they accepted my sorry excuse of an answer and moved onto the next participant.
The next round was reading a passage then discussion. I can read, so this part was much less stressful. The discussion, on the other hand, put my new found faith to the test.
Situation: You are about to be sentenced to death. If you renounce your belief in Jesus Christ, however, you will be spared and free to go. What would you do?
When it was my turn, I pretended to weigh it up in my mind then answered honestly “I would tell them I’m not a Christian.”
Apparently this was the wrong answer.
After at least 20 minutes of serious talk about how I will not be allowed to come to heaven etc. and not until after the room had all been thoroughly assured that my faith had been restored once again were we allowed to move onto the next partygoer’s answer.
The final round was prayer time. We were all asked if there was anything we wanted the group for. I politely declined.
It was over! I was free!
As I was leaving, the leader of the group asks me “Will we see you next week?”
I say “possibly” and head into our taxi never to be seen again.