When we returned home about three weeks ago, I optimistically thought this post would go up shortly after. But the photos sat untouched in my camera's memory card for a long while before I finally sorted through them last weekend. "What's the rush?", I kept thinking.
There's this change in mentality, a shift in perception that happens when you spend an extended period of time seeing how people who are unlike you live. I was immersed in a culture that cares deeply about food, every meal was a feast with everyone around the table. I learned what the meaning of family really is, we were constantly welcomed and fed by relatives so far removed that I couldn't even get the relationship straight (my eldest aunt's husband's sister's son?). I came back questioning the meaningless stress of our fast paced lives. Seeing people with far fewer material possessions live much simpler and happier lives really makes you reevaluate your own existence. I'm trying to be more zen about life these days, doing things at their natural pace and taking time for self reflection. It's the healthy thing to do.
We started our journey in Beijing, landing on new year's eve and immediately eating a celebratory holiday dinner. One of the items on the table that night was a whole fish meant only for viewing, not for eating, a "look fish" as everyone called it. This would be the first of many rituals we partook in for good luck and good fortune. After spending barely enough days there to recover from the jetlag, we hopped on a train to my mom's hometown of Tianmen.
In China, lunar new year is the biggest holiday of the year. It consists of two weeks straight of eating, drinking, gambling, and having a jolly old time with family. As such, almost the entirety of my mom's family made the trek out to Tianmen. That's five siblings including her, their children, their grandchildren, plus spouses! It was a huge reunion which I am grateful to have been a part of. Sadly, the two most important people couldn't be there.
My grandparents are buried in a small village outside of the city proper. We each kneeled on the ground in front of their graves, lit three sticks of incense, and bowed three times to honor them. We burned fake money to send them fortune in the afterlife. We lit fireworks to celebrate the incredible lives they led. It's important to remember the family that's no longer with us, our reunion would not have been complete otherwise.
One of the things that most astounded me was how people cook in rural China. The majority of cooking was done by hired help who could fashion a makeshift kitchen almost anywhere. On a day with particularly heinous weather, they set up a tent outside under pouring rain, built a brick "oven", filled it with coals, and plopped an enormous wok on top. Every meal of the day came out of that kitchen, and it was glorious.
After a week of feasting, we said our goodbyes to everyone and headed to Nanjing—my hometown. It's where I spent the first five years of my life before immigrating to the US. I have no real memories of my childhood there, but still feel a strong sense of attachment to the place. Phillip and I both decided it was our favorite city of the whole trip. We spent most of our time there doing touristy things: going to the lantern festival at Fuzimiao, taking a day trip to the Purple Mountain, burning lots of incense at Buddhist temples, and of course eating everything.
During our time in Nanjing, we also took a short weekend trip to the neighboring city of Yangzhou, where my mom's best friend showed us around. I had some of the best noodles I've ever eaten there. They were handmade with little embellishment, all characteristics of great food. When the time came I was sad to leave, but we needed to return to Beijing for the last leg of our adventure, so we took a train back to where we started. Our final few days consisted of more sightseeing and so much Beijing roast duck, I couldn't even handle the duck overload. We did eventually get a day of rest after weeks of nonstop action. It was a wonderful end to an equally wonderful trip.