1 Zola and Retail Marketing
2 Playing the Waiting Game
3 Beware the Ides of March
4 The county not on a map
5 Chinese Chess in Beijing
6 Build it and They'll Come
7 Riding the Water Dragon
8 The Best of Both Worlds
9 Storming the Great Wall
10 Welcome to the Wangba
11 The Catcher in the Rice
12 The Marriage Business
13 The Crouching Dragon
14 Counting the Numbers
15 A Century of Migration
16 Shooting for the Stars
17 Rise of Yorkshire Puds
18 Harry Potter in Beijing
19 Standing Out in China
20 Self-pandactualisation
21 Strolling on the Moon
22 Tea with the Brothers
23 Animated Guangzhou
24 Trouble on the Farms
25 Christmas in Haerbin
26 Dave pops into Tesco
27 A Breath of Fresh Air
28 The Boys from Brazil
29 Rolls-Royce on a roll
30 The Great Exhibition
31 Spreading the Word
32 On Top of the World
33 Moonlight Madness
34 Beijing's Wild West
35 Avatar vs Confucius
36 Brand Ambassadors
37 Inspiring Adventure
38 China's Sweet Spot
39 Spinning the Wheel
40 Winter Wonderland
41 The End of the Sky
42 Ticket to Ride High
43 Turning the Corner
44 Trouble in Toytown
45 Watch with Mother
46 Red-crowned Alert
47 In a Barbie World
48 Domestic Arrivals
49 Tale of Two Taxis
50 Land of Extremes
51 Of 'Mice' and Men
52 Tour of the South
53 Brooding Clouds?
54 The Nabang Test
55 Guanxi Building
56 Apple Blossoms
57 New Romantics
58 The Rose Seller
59 Rural Shanghai
60 Forbidden Fruit
61 Exotic Flavours
62 Picking up Pace
63 New Year, 2008
64 Shedding Tiers
65 Olympic Prince
66 London Calling
67 A Soulful Song
68 Paradise Lost?
69 Brandopolises
70 Red, red wine
71 Finding Nemo
72 Rogue Dealer
73 Juicy Carrots
74 Bad Air Days
75 Golden Week
76 Master Class
77 Noodle Wars
78 Yes We Can!
79 Mr Blue Sky
80 Keep Riding
81 Wise Words
82 Hair Today
83 Easy Rider
84 Aftershock
85 Bread vans
86 Pick a card
87 The 60th
88 Ox Tales
2001 to 2007

Spreading the Word 

Mr Mao - a recent convert to Christianity

It had been a long, difficult walk under an unforgiving sun. The track that I had cycled down only a few months before had been turned into an ant’s version of the Himalayas. Inexplicably, there was only one man working on the earth-moving project.  Shovel in hand, he begrudgingly divulged that “It’s going to be a highway”.  But he didn’t know where it would come from and to where it would go.  I’m a firm believer that, in China at least, there are times when the inexplicable should be left unexplained and so, without further enquiry, I wished the man good luck.  Then, after more than two miles of climbing, stumbling, slipping and sliding, the obstruction came to an end.  As I was descending from the mound to the level single-track road that stretched for miles, I was thinking that the morning could only improve.  It didn’t.    

  The next test was the dust.  The benign-looking road disappeared each time a car came along – shrouded in a veil of particulate matter that you could taste and sometimes chew.  I knew from my winter excursions that there would be another two miles of this torture.  Missing lunch is one thing; but suffering long-term respiratory damage is quite another. Even more worryingly, I had promised my wife a leisurely stroll by the river.

  Then a miracle happened.

  The noise of the car approaching from behind made me take a deep breath – thinking that it would create a cloud of dust in its wake.  But that didn’t happen.  I could hear it screeching to a halt and, turning round, I saw a sight that was medication for my sore eyes. 

  A Beijing taxi! 

  The surreal was cranked up a notch when he began flashing his lights, smiling, and waving excitedly.  These days, it’s rare to see a welcoming taxi-driver in Beijing, and here we were in the middle of nowhere being rescued by the most welcoming driver I’d seen for years.

  We entered the air-conditioned oasis, and the surprises just kept coming.


  In English, the taxi-driver welcomed us with a cheery, “Hello; Welcome to Beijing; God bless you!”.  I had heard the “Welcome to Beijing” greeting many times – it must have been lesson number one in the English-language course given to taxi drivers last year to prepare them for the Olympic-tourist influx.  But the “God bless you” sounded odd to say the least.  I then noticed he had a rosary with blue beads and a small, silver crucifix dangling from his rear-view mirror. 

  He drove fast, swerving around the “speed-calming” humps that were at intervals of about 100 yards, while recounting his story (in heavily-guttural Beijing Mandarin):

  “I’m a Christian. [big swerve.]  I go to church every Sunday… to the big church near to Dongfeng Qiao; where I listen to a European priest [even bigger swerve].  I don’t understand anything he says… because he speaks in English, but I really like the feeling.  It gives me a kind of calmness I’ve never had before." [screech of the brakes, followed by a massive swerve, which caused the car to be enveloped in an ethereal cloud of dust.]

  Now I must admit to have been a little puzzled by Mr Mao's account of “thousands” of locals freely worshipping at a church in Beijing each Sunday. I had thought that Chinese nationals were not allowed to hear foreign priests deliver sermons.  The River of Grace Church, for instance, notifies would-be attendees of the restriction that, “Currently due to local government regulations we are only permitted to admit foreign passport holders to our church services.” 

  But it seems that Mr Mao’s church – Chaoyang Church – is a beacon of progressiveness when it comes to the freedom to worship in China.  In 2006, it was the venue of the first ever sermon to be given in mainland China by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury; and the church has a string of other firsts to its name.

  Chaoyang Church has its own website [no longer available]; and its own hotmail address. There’s even a bilingual advertisement on its site, which lays out the requirement for the volunteer team it is seeking to recruit:

  “There are often over four thousand people who attend Sunday services in Chaoyang Church. So we need people to be responsible for receiving and serving this large number. For this reason, Chaoyang Church has organized The Volunteer Team. Their assignment is to be in charge of greeting and receiving new people who attend Sunday services as well as certain security issues and watchfulness of other urgent matters. All of them have pure faith, and have for long period of time trusted in God. They love God, their country and other people. They are willing to devote themselves to Jesus Christ and to show the Glory of the Lord.

  It is clear from the words and also from reading between the lines that Chaoyang Church is Beijing’s showcase church and that the administrators of the church are working hard to ensure that it stays that way.

  When the dust cleared I saw that we had at last reached the main road.  Mr Mao continued his sermon:  He told us that he couldn’t rely on anyone to care for him and his family [he is married and has a 16 year-old daughter who goes to high school in Shunyi], and that’s why he had turned to God.

  He is a recent convert.  Six months ago, an old teacher, with whom he has kept in touch, returned from The US and showed him the light.  “That’s a gift from her,” he said, pointing at the rosary that was bouncing violently as he took a right turn at speed with one hand on the wheel.


Mr Mao slammed into third gear while continuing his story:


“Before I was a Christian, I used to be in a bad mood a lot; and this affected my driving… I used to be an aggressive driver.”

   Within minutes we were at our destination, and in plenty of time for the promised pub lunch.  I shook Mr Mao's hand and thanked him for delivering us from the back of beyond.   He happily agreed to pose for some shots, before bidding us farewell with his trademark cheery wave, and the standard Beijing farewell,"Man zou" ["Go slowly"]. 


"Man zou", says Mr Mao ("Go slowly")