This morning we straggled out of bed at about 8:40 – and managed to make ourselves presentable for a 9 a.m. traditional breakfast here at Xiao Yin’s house. I spent the night between the kids and had a bit of trouble sleeping. The problem was that the blankets were a little short so my feet stuck out when my legs were straight. That was fine until both kids decided they needed to be cuddling with me, which required I be on my back. I spent a couple of hours experimenting with crossed-legs (hard on back), and a modified side-lying (hard on left hip). Finally, the kids were sleeping soundly and I was able to move them, finagle the blankets, and get a couple of good hours on my belly.
Anyway, this morning we had rice congee with all the fixings (egg, dried tofu, various pickled vegetables, kidney beans), as well as some dim sum featuring a sweet and sticky peanut-filled bun which is a local specialty.
We then headed to a Tang-dynasty temple about 40 minutes into the mountains. Once there, imagine my shock when the box of sunkist oranges we brought as a gift was taken out of the back of the car, and the oranges were loaded on to a plate at the altar. I had often wondered what happens to the food left on the altars so today I asked. In fact, the food is “eaten” by the gods, but is then brought back home and eaten by the people who offered them. Eating such food is supposed to bring good luck. I was glad of that because those were the really delicious oranges and I was hoping to have a taste or two before we left town. Anyway, we visited the various altars, took a short hike on a trail through the mountains around the temple, and then returned to the temple for a Buddhist vegetarian lunch. After that we returned to our friend’s house and had a few hours of rest.
In the afternoon we went visiting at the home of family friend’s with children – there we set of fireworks, the kids played, and we looked at their goldfish. Then we left for dinner at the home of some other family friends. There about 15 people were present and we ate a dinner of local seafood featuring the Shark Fin Soup as the main course. Again, I dutifully tried everything and Jason did the real eating. Jie-jie loved the soup. Mei-mei mostly ate her steamed rice. After dinner we were invited up to the 4th floor of the huge house (several times larger than our friend’s) where they had a karaoke lounge set-up. There were unopened cans of beer and packs of cigarettes all over the place. The sound was deafening as many of the already tipsy (male) dinner guests began to take turns screaming into microphones that were attached the a sound system which would have been sufficient for a small nightclub, much less a 20X25 foot room. The kids sat covering their ears. I was hoping that they would notice and turn it down. Not surprisingly, this did not happen. Instead, I turned to Jason and said that we could not stay. Xiao Yin took us into the hallway where we explained the noise was too much for the children. Our departure was noted, and the party immediately broke up. I felt bad but still…
Xiao Yin suggested we could go for a walk and stop to get our hair washed. I was puzzled but agreed. So, our two families left everyone and stopped at a local hair salon. There Jason, Xiao Yin, and I had 90 minute hair washing, face, head, and upper body massages, and styling, while the kids were plied with television and candy by the salon staff and Xiao Yin’s parents. I enjoyed the hair-washing a great deal. Instead of salon chairs, you actually lie on a padded table with a sink on the end. it was quite nice and I intend to go again in GZ before we head back to the States.
On the way back (it being quite late by this time) we stopped at the home of another friend and neighbor. There we had tea in little cups (FYI – this has happened at every home thus far but it become too much to mention), were offered more local snacks, and the children received New Year’s red envelopes with money in them. We soon returned to Xiao Yin’s where we ate local fruit and tea, the children (now sugared and exhausted beyond recognition) stared blearily at the television for a few minutes before we saw the third floor of their home and headed to bed.
Tomorrow is our last day. Our friend suggested that it might be harder to get driven in to Xiamen on Sunday morning. We have learned that, in China, a friendly suggestion is really a statement of what ought to be done. Thus, we are heading out late in the afternoon Saturday instead. Since it is a lot of work being a guest and it is a lot of work hosting, this will probably suit all of us just fine even though we are having a great time.
Some general observations: Everyone we have met here lives in a home instead of an apartment building – even if the home is shared with extended family (e.g. one gate, side by side units). Most homes also have a guard dog chained just inside the gate – near the car port. None of the homes have central heating (or even space heaters), most are open air hallways and family spaces, and the windows are open despite the fact that the temperature has been in the 50s and wet for some time. Since we are rubbing elbows with folks who could afford heat and they do have A/C in enclosed spaces, I must conclude that there is no interest in it – it’s just not what people do here. Instead, everyone just wears their coats all the time – same thing in GZ. Also, the homes we have seen are new and they often contain rooms that are completely bare. My assumption is that houses are built larger than necessary for status and because the expectation is that the spare rooms will come to be inhabited by adult children and their families. I do wonder if the next generation will be on board with the traditional Chinese
inter-generational household as most of the younger folks I have met want to travel and do not feel the need to settle in their hometowns (e.g. going to Shanghai for university, the U.S. for grad school, or looking for work in larger cities that offer greater employment and consumer opportunities).