“In Shanghai’s ‘Number One Department Store’” Ensign, Oct. 1985, 67–68
Miracles are about us every day if we take the time to notice. Such a miracle happened in June 1981 in Shanghai, China.
Years before, as the Vietnamese conflict ended, Carl Borup and his wife, Elizabeth, had helped a Cambodian refugee, Chiv Leung, and his family by hiring him to work in their supermarket in Tremonton, Utah. Kindled by the sharing of hearts and needs as well as the gospel, the friendship between Chiv Leung and the Borups grew strong.
Later, in early 1981, Carl and Don Borup and their wives made plans to tour China and the Far East with a tour group of members led by Sheldon and Eliza Poon of Salt Lake City. The visit would include many prominent Chinese cities. The refugee family shared in the preparations and excitement of the trip as the Borups secured their passports and visas.
Chiv Leung told the Borups about his brother, Chen, who twenty years earlier had left Cambodia for China to get an education. As he completed his education, the political and internal strife within the country prevented him from returning to his family and native land. Instead, he settled in the Hunan Province in southwestern China as the government wished him to do. Separated by hundreds of miles and political turmoil, Chen Leung was not permitted to see his family and was able to communicate with them only on a limited basis.
Chiv Leung told the Borups that Chen and his wife now felt it might be possible for the Borups to meet with them in China. So the Borups made plans to meet with the Leungs in Shanghai. Chiv Leung and his brother Chen exchanged letters, giving details and expressing hopes for a meeting with their friends, the Borups. Neither family realized how difficult meeting could be.
The Borups arrived in Peking in June. They immediately tried to telephone the Chen Leungs in Hunan Province thousands of miles away. The telephone connections were poor, so they were left hoping that their friends received the message Brother Poon delivered: “Borup friends—Shanghai, June 12 and 13.”
Traveling by train from Wuxi, the Americans arrived in Shanghai at one o’clock Friday afternoon. As the carefully planned itinerary required, they were accompanied by a national tour guide and joined in each location by an appointed city tour guide. All arrangements for hotels and activities were strictly outlined by these guides. Again the Borups tried to locate the Leung family—in vain. The Borups felt disappointed, but with a prayer in their hearts they continued on, hoping God would make the meeting possible.
The Shanghai city tour guide, Miss Ying, announced the tour itinerary for the group’s stay in Shanghai, a city of eleven million people. As the group toured, Miss Ying pointed out the ancient parts of the city—including the remains of the largest city wall in the world, built in 600 B.C.; the pre-World War II sections; and the more modern parts—including the “number one department store.”
After the group had visited some ancient Buddhist temples and a children’s “youth palace,” Miss Ying announced that the last stop before dinner would be a visit to the large “friendship store,” which catered to tourists. Members of the group had been to “friendship stores” in other cities and wanted to visit a store that was more like those where the Chinese people really shop. As the time for shopping grew shorter, some members of the group approached Miss Ying: “Couldn’t we please visit the ‘number one department store’? We would very much like to see it.”
Miss Ying replied, “That is not on our schedule, but we shall see. … We are democratic. Perhaps we should vote on it.” When she asked for a vote, every hand shot up.
“We must hurry. We shall only have fifteen minutes,” Miss Ying emphasized as the small tour bus pulled up to the tall, city-block-sized department store. The twenty-plus tourists were soon inside, where throngs of Chinese shoppers looked curiously at the tall visitors who stood head and shoulders above them.
Moments later a crowd gathered in the stairway to the second floor where a loud-speaking Chinese woman was trying to communicate with Carl Borup. He looked down and saw a wallet-sized photograph of himself and his wife lying at his feet. Thinking he had dropped it, Carl picked it up and found that it had Chinese writing all over the back. Eliza Poon, who had been anxiously observing the scene, wedged her way to the center of the group and exclaimed, “Oh, Brother Borup—these are your friends. They’ve found you.” Tears of joy clouded the eyes of the Borups and the Chen Leung family as Sister Poon took them back to the tour bus where they could talk more privately.
Miss Ying soon appeared, demanding to know who the Chinese strangers were. Sister Poon told her they were a “miracle family.”
“I don’t know miracle,” Miss Ying said, asking them to leave the bus. But after some discussion, Miss Ying began to understand what had happened and relented.
The Leung family returned with their American friends to the hotel for dinner. Excited conversation flowed between the Leungs and the Borups via Brother and Sister Poon’s translations until nearly midnight, when the Leungs had to leave to begin their trip home.
The Borups learned that the Leungs had traveled with their young son and daughter nearly two days on the train, more than 2,100 miles—at a cost of a month’s wages—to meet the Borups. With only a picture and the knowledge that the Borups were Americans, they had spent nearly the entire day in Shanghai looking for them.
Chen Leung said, “I don’t really know God, but I believe there is one and I prayed; as a family we prayed, ‘Oh, God, please help us to be successful to find our American friends in Shanghai.’” It was a long shot, at best, with as many as two thousand foreign tourists daily in the city during the tourist season.
“As we arrived in Shanghai, we contacted the National Tour Agency trying to find a Poon or a Borup,” he said. “But the group was not identified by such names. They gave us no hope. We found the hotels for American tourists and still found no registration for the people we were looking for. Our time was about gone. We prayed that somehow our hopes could be granted.”
Knowing they had to begin their return trip home that night, they decided to provide some pleasant memories by taking their children shopping at the ‘number one department store.’ The Leungs had been there only a few moments when, with the picture as a guide, they had recognized Sister Borup. “Then we cried!” said Chen Leung. Faith and prayer had guided the families together.