This should have gone up like three days ago, so sorry about that.
So these couple of days have been amazing. It’s been a lot of sitting around, reading (I started finished Lamb for probably the 10th time), went back over all the essays I wrote the last three weeks twice and ate and ate and ate. Thank goodness feasting only happens on the first three days after the new year, even my family started getting sick of it after a while. That’s over now and we’re eating more reasonable, and more importantly I get to help/learn cooking now! It’s been really good for my mental health, I haven’t even minded Little Black, the family’s bird refusing to shut up, the incessant sound of firecrackers or the resulting pollution that’s kept me from running. For now at least, the lack of running thing is starting to get on my nerves a bit.
Two nights ago was the last feast night and only night we didn’t go to a relative’s house. My host-aunt’s parents live around the block as I mentioned, and my uncle’s two elder sisters’ families live directly next door to us and down the street respectively, so very easy to get the family together, and they’ve all been very warm and welcoming to me as I mentioned in the last post. The restaurant was a seafood place, which I normally don’t go for, but everything was delicious. I’m a little ashamed of having eaten softshell turtle, especially after I saw some of its still living brethren on the way out, as tasty as it was I’m not sure I’ll be having it again if I can avoid it. My family aren’t huge drinkers (of alcohol, tea is another matter), but that night being the last feast night my uncle brought his homemade ginseng-infused liquor which was rather spicy and delicious. We followed that with a bottle of 五粮液, wuliangye roughly translated as liquid of five grains, one of China’s two famous baijiu brands (the other being 茅台 maotai). Remarkably smooth and delicious (those of you who have tried cheap baijiu and can’t think of anything associated with it but the taste of rotting corpse, believe me, it’s good). There were toasts aplenty, and I was able to keep my composure thankfully.
Possibly as a result of the alcohol though, I became much more chatty and decided to play some piano when we got home. I tragically can’t remember a single song in its entirety, but it sparked a conversation about jazz, tea, classical Chinese, Shakespeare, and many other things. I ended up showing them a video of one of my Studio Band performances from high school which auntie was really impressed with, said that her kids don’t have any soul (I had to provide the word) when they play piano, I attributed that to them never playing in a band, a jazz band specifically. Long story short, we became much closer that night.
Continuing to the next day, did some veggie shopping, learned how to make noodles, and then went to my uncle’s club. See, my aunt had mentioned my uncle’s club (俱乐部 jew-luh-boo, the standard translation) before, and I assumed it was a place he was a member of where guys smoked cigars in nice chairs, played pool and drank tea. I was very wrong. Clubhouse would be a better translation. A couple years ago, he and like 15 of his friends pooled money and build a floor on a building down the street with bedrooms, offices, a pool room, a greenhouse, gym, pingpong table and rooftop garden with 15 peach and apple trees. They’re still working on it and it’s the coolest fucking thing in the world, I want to do that with my friends when I grow up. My uncle, as you can see in the pictures below, really knows his tea and has two dedicated tea tables in the clubhouse; that can be a topic for a later post because they’re really cool. He also knows a lot about classical Chinese, Chinese medicine etc. I like my family, they’re very into traditional Chinese culture, which as my aunt was saying kind of skipped the generation between them and their parents due to the cultural revolution, it’s also making a resurgence because of Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream and the rise of Chinese nationalism. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, as prior to 1990 let’s say there wasn’t much to be proud about for being Chinese from the western perspective given the humiliation of the Opium Wars, the deterioration of the Qing, WWII, the Great Leap Forward (which resulted in a famine that killed tens of millions) and the cultural revolution. Since Deng Xiaoping though, the average Chinese citizen’s standard of living has increased about 1,000 times, pretty crazy huh? So thanks to that they’ve been a great source of info on Chinese culture. We finished off the night by going to a movie, Mermaid, domestic, pretty good, painful CGI notwithstanding. Before that though, we went to visit the grandparents, Tiantian (my host sister) couldn’t come because she had scheduled a raid (for those of you older than me and/or not video game nerds, she had agreed to play a level in a video game with friends and couldn’t miss it because they needed her help to beat it), and in that moment I knew this family was perfect for me. Enjoy the pics below!
The vista shots are from inside Big Wild Goose Pagoda, which I finally did the day after New Year’s Day. The smog was bad, but that’s a quintessential part of experiencing Chinese culture too, isn’t it? The tower dates to the Tang Dynasty, and the temple surrounding it is dedicated to Xuan Zang, the Buddhist monk who traveled to India during the Tang years seeking Buddhist sutras. He stayed there for many years and became a well-respected teacher, before bringing the sutras back to China for translation. Hi journey was fictionalized in “The Journey to the West” one of China’s most famous novels in which he is joined by Sun Wukong the Monkey King and other companions, and which has seen numerous movie and TV adaptations as well as an American vieo game that got horrible reviews. Look him up if you’re interested. As long as I’m off on a tangent here, a cool thing about most Chinese Buddhist temples is they’re laid out as a series of halls, freestanding buildings in a straight line with a statue or shrine inside the single room along with other things. On the sides are lesser shrines or buildings, you can kind of see it here.
What I’ve known for a while, but never really paid attention to, is that you always want to look behind you as you pass from one hall to the next, as there’s often a smaller shrine or inscription build into the back wall. I had a bit of an epiphany that day, in that it really is important to look behind you in life and remember where you’ve come from, also so that you make sure you don’t miss anything important.