Truly I am your servant, Lord;
I serve you just as my mother did;
you have freed me from my chains.
- Psalm 116:16
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
- John 8:34-36
Shanghaiing is an old term. It refers to being forced or tricked into working as a sailor using nefarious means, often using violence and kidnapping, to get you upon a boat and forcing you to become a sailor, a slave until you can escape. Since the destination port was often Shanghai, China, this practice became known as Shanghaiing. You would be ‘Shanghaied’ even if the destination was not Shanghai.
I have been to Shanghai, Peoples Republic of China, twice. On my first trip, I was there, with another instructor, for about ten days. We arrived mid-week after the electrical engineer had finished his training. We were going to discuss general operations of the equipment that our company had installed and mechanical maintenance and troubleshooting. The featured photo is the view from the iconic TV Tower in Pudong (east (dong) of the Pu river in Shanghai) – the upper viewing area, I think, above the layer of smog.
My second trip to Shanghai was just to change flights. It was during the Olympic Games in 2008. On that occasion, we, a different instructor who had never been to China and I, were able to get a flight into Beijing to work in Nanshan for four days, but our return flight was near the end of the Olympic Games and all the international flights were booked out of Beijing. So, we took a domestic flight to Shanghai to change flights.
On both occasions, I had the sneaky suspicion that someone wanted to Shanghai me in Shanghai, P. R. China. Not to become a sailor in Shanghai, but like the Hotel California – I could never leave. Whether the fear was legitimate or not, I felt it.
On the first trip, my partner received a call from the travel agent to be told that our return flight that morning was cancelled. Our return flight was to be from Shanghai to Tokyo for refueling to San Francisco to Pittsburgh, but I got a call at 3:00am telling me that I needed to be dressed and in the lobby in fifteen minutes, already checked out of my room. We took separate taxis to the airport, since the taxis were too small for double occupancy at that time of day. We bought tickets to Tokyo on a small Japanese airline, and then we took a different flight on our original airline to return to San Francisco and then home. Between the lack of sleep, the fact that my partner had given me a virus – during the SARS quarantine, no one left China if they had a fever – but an illness that he was sick with when we went to China ten days before, and the confusion of changing airlines, terminals, etc. I felt someone was “out to get me.” At each point, we were running through terminals to reach our connecting flights. That’s the trip that I used alcohol wipes to lower the temperature of my forehead to get past the SARS quarantine station. I knew the source of my virus and it was not SARS, definitely a stomach bug and not a respiratory virus. In spite of the confusion, we returned safely. I was just a little bit frightened.
On the second trip, returning to Shanghai by way of Beijing, they had changed their terminals in Shanghai, going from one terminal to two and no one told me the trick – no signs in English. I thought I knew how to get to the international gates, having been there before, but I was directed out to the ticketing area after we had retrieved our luggage from the domestic baggage claim. We were told to go through “those doors” with a pointing finger. But where they pointed led to the taxi area with which I was far too familiar. I thought they were thinking that we were tourists, visiting Shanghai. We went to an information counter and explained that we were going to the international terminal. Again, pointed to the street. We wandered for over an hour, asking anyone that might know a little English. Along the wall where they were pointing were countless doors leading to the street, but one set of doors were heavily guarded by uniformed officers, armed to the teeth. We had seen people approach these guards, only to have the guards clutch their weapons and shout at the intruders. With almost no time to catch our flight, I braved my way to one of the guards.
The guard not only knew English (rare in P. R. China), he also knew what had happened since the last time that I was in Shanghai. He even laughed as he explained the new set-up. They had built a second terminal, a mirror to the first on the other side of the highway. I could have reached the terminal by risking life and limb by crossing the highway, as all the airport personnel seemed to be telling me to do. Or, since I was an honored guest, a person from a foreign land worthy of a small amount of respect, he would let me pass through the doors that he was guarding. On the other side of the doors were moving sidewalks, escalators, etc. that zoomed us (really fast moving sidewalks – probably too fast to be considered safe anywhere else in the world) to the Mag-Lev station that we could take into Shanghai, but then there were more moving sidewalks that zoomed us on to the international terminal on the other side. I had enough time to buy some postcards before our seating section was called for boarding. My fears were real. In each case, running through airports was required to catch an airplane that would take me to freedom.
I wrote these true stories, that I hope people thought amusing, to let you know that until you get into a situation like that, you have no idea what “true freedom” means, and I am just talking about true freedom as we pretend our earthly freedoms to be. In Psalm 116, the first Scripture, the true freedom in God is when we die, and we go to Heaven to be with Jesus. The second Scripture from John 8 is Jesus explaining that as adopted sons of God, we are indeed free, no longer a slave to sin.
I see an alarming attitude in some portions of our society, those too young to have lived through the Cold War, the Vietnam War Years, and the big Red Scare of Mutual Nuclear Destruction, and from others who should have learned by experience, but missed the lesson. They are too willing to give up some of their freedom or even all their freedom in order to have student loans paid or someone to take care of them so that they don’t have to suffer the trials of becoming productive in the workplace, those thorns that God said were our punishment for Adam’s sin (and our own) in Genesis 3.
When you find yourself being Shanghaied, whether in Shanghai or somewhere else, we want to escape. In both cases, I was in an airport, going home, but it seemed some powerful force was preventing that from happening. It seemed to be a force too powerful for me to confront. As far as our concept of freedom in the “free” world is concerned, we must guard the freedoms that we have. We should not be silent and apathetic and have someone take our freedoms away.
But when it comes to true freedom, we can never have true freedom without Jesus. When you feel totally imprisoned by guilt and shame, Jesus can free you, and you shall be free indeed.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.