I generally make an effort to see the most notable sights when I travel, but it’s the people I meet who make the experience special. Noel & Jonathan were incredible hosts and within a day I knew that I would be ditching my hostel booking to extend my stay with them. Too hell with my (completely undefined) budget!
The night I arrived, they were both waiting for me in their home. Straight off, they suggested I refresh myself with a shower and we should go find dinner. I enthusiastically agreed, because who wants to make decisions after a long plane flight!
They decided to take me to Stuff’d, a sausage restaurant that could easily have come straight out of Brooklyn. They make their own sausages with imported meat to ensure quality, as well as offering their own brews. We ordered a nice selection of sausages plus this ridiculous calzone like thing called “The Last Supper,” stuffed with a hamburger patty and pepperoni. It was pretty damn tasty.
Over dinner and the following days, I learned a lot about Jonathan & Noel. Jonathan is from San Francisco, and Noel grew up on a ranch in California. They moved to Beijing for Jonathan’s schooling. They are both intelligent, kind, generous people. And they are extremely religious and politically conservative. Like, almost worked for Sarah Palin/not repulsed by the tea party conservative.
This was an interesting turn of events for me. While I have some religious friends and likely some conservative friends, the reality is I almost entirely interact with progressives and most do not participate in organized religion. To encounter intelligent, open-minded people of this sort whom I liked and respected was a bit of a shock.
In no way did they try push their beliefs on me, but religion and their politics are heavily entwined in their lives so it came up often.
I met many friends of theirs who all had a connection to the church. I joined them for a dinner that was followed by a Christian discussion group, but I slipped out as they listened to a sermon. I conversed with their guests, but kept silent when the discussions turned to God working through a famous young woman, to help her do great things. I never quite got to a place where I felt comfortable saying “Actually, I don’t believe in any gods.”