Wuhan: Catching up with people after lockdown ends

A phone call this morning from Han Weiwei led to further discussions about our planned meeting later in the week at his side of Wuhan. One year ago, his daily phone calls became a familiar part of the 11 weeks of lockdown. The return to normal life in the city has seen a continuation of his daily phone calls with the addition of us meeting once every two weeks for a walk in the riverside park near his home. We are joined in more recent months by a Catholic woman who lives near his home and occasionally by two sisters from the convent at the Hanyang side of the city.

Collectively we form a diverse group of people with varying abilities. Weiwei continually emphasises how happy he is to meet each person, the simplicity of sitting by the Yangtze River looking out at the passing ships and eating sunflower seeds being enough to satisfy his needs as well as ours. On a few occasions he has added to the joy of the afternoon by singing a few songs, greatly encouraged by the fact his recently opened singing blog has attracted two fans.

As preparations continue for this week’s meeting, I have made tentative enquiries about what the weather might be like later in the week. He assures me that the weather forecast is good. This boosts my confidence about the upcoming appointment. Part of my interest in the weather forecast is based upon recent experience.

Two weeks ago there was rain in Wuhan, a normal part of the weather cycle that provides much needed moisture for the vast cultivated areas of central China. As I stepped off the Metro near Weiwei’s home in the early afternoon that day, my mobile phone rang. It was Wewei. He announced that it was raining quite heavily, a fact that had not escaped my attention an hour earlier. He then got straight to the point by announcing that due to the rain it would be best for us not to meet.

Surprised by his announcement, I politely explained to him that I had just got off the Metro and that I would actually be near his home with ten minutes. His reply was one that showed our divergent views on what might happen at this stage of the afternoon. He spoke just a few words, a short Chinese phrase, “mei guan xi”, literally meaning, “it doesn’t matter”, thereby ensuring that we would not be meeting. Rain during previous weeks had not derailed our plans. In fact those days of rain had encouraged our creativity as we took shelter under the canopies of large rental tricycles in the park on one afternoon and found seats in a sheltered area at the edge of a shopping centre on another afternoon.

As I approached the exit of the station on that wet afternoon, our phone conversation continued as I pondered on the fact that being surprised is a feature of so much that can happen in knowing Weiwei. When the phone call ended, I continued my journey past Weiwei’s home and met with the Catholic woman who was waiting in the sheltered seated area at the edge of the shopping centre. As we sat and chatted, the rain continued to fall nearby. We laughed about our disrupted plans due to Weiwei’s late intervention. However, we also referred to the way he appreciates the interest shown in him by so many people at Holy Family Church.

His willingness to greet people in his own way has endeared him to many. He has mentioned on several occasions that the people at the church are kind to him in a way that he does not experience in other settings. His particular affection for Our Lady is something that he emphasises on a regular basis, a number of her images to be seen in the humble home that he shares with his mother. Presumably it is also part of the reason that he regularly volunteers to clean the area around the grotto at the church. His elderly and physically challenged grandmother also forms an important part of his circle of support in a life that is lived at the margins of Chinese society.

Weiwei’s long term prospects for work are probably very slim. His future is likely to bring him in contact with many vulnerable situations in a country where the headlines focus on very different issues. However, Weiwei will probably continue with his contribution to the life of the Church in China, seeing the world from a unique faith perspective and happy to tell others about it, some of them who have had no previous connection with the Church.

The Catholic community in this area of Wuhan, perhaps without fully realising it, will also continue to provide him with the friendship and encouragement that allow him to grow as a person, many of them telling him directly of God’s great love for him.

As the day for our next well-planned appointment gets even closer, the blue skies of Wuhan are indicating that umbrellas will not be needed on this occasion. Actually, recent days have seen an increase in temperatures. Is there a possibility that the approaching summer heat will lead to an unexpected disruption to our plans? Perhaps I should suggest to Weiwei that checking the weather forecast might be a worthwhile undertaking for us, preferably doing so on the evening before we meet. However, such an approach might also reduce the possibility for spontaneity.

Courtesy: Independent Catholic News – www.indcatholicnews.com/news

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