Jiangmen City, Guangdong Province
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: China is a different kind of place. It’s chaotic, it’s orderly, it’s rural, it’s modern, it’s old and it’s new. It’s all of the above and none of it. It’s confusing as hell.
At least that was my impression of it when I rode the bus from Hong Kong to mainland China. Within an hour we went from huge skyscrapers to small farming villages, and then back to cities. I kept wondering, while I was on the bus, when will I ever get to the city that I spent half of my childhood in? Surely enough three sleepy hours later, the city that I kind of remember started to appear, except none of it looked familiar.
I was dropped off at one of the main hotels in the city. Right away I was bombarded by motorcycle taxis asking me where I needed to go. I didn’t know. I sat by the stoops where my father told me he’d meet me and just observed my surroundings. It’s hot, it’s humid. There were palm trees everywhere. Am I in Hawaii? South Korea was still kind of chilly when I left, and now I was dripping with sweat, sticky and hot. I started to feel itchy just thinking about all the mosquitoes I’ll face the next few days.
Out of nowhere my uncle and my father appeared, just as sweaty, and scooped up all my luggages (which is really just my backpack and purse) and told me we were just 2 blocks away from one of our old apartments.
At the apartment I was greeted by my grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, my second aunt and uncle, my third aunt and uncle and cousins. You see, in Chinese culture, each of your aunts and uncles have their own honorifics titles, and I’m still learning them all. You cannot call your mother’s sister the same thing you call your father’s sister, nor can you call them by their names. I told you, it’s confusing. And did I mention my father has five siblings and they’re all married with kids?
The next few days I spent reaccquanting with all my aunts and uncles and cousins. All of whom told me I looked the same. They all thought I was joking when I told them I just turned 26. Then I regret telling them because the next question that follows is always about marriage.
It’s kind of funny, everyone seems to have some sort of assumption about me since I grew up in America. For example, they’re surprised I can still speak Chinese pretty well, they’re suprised that I can still use chopsticks. They said, “But I thought everyone in America uses forks and knives!” Then I have to tell them some “Americans” can use chopsticks better than me. They’re astounded but not sure if they believe me.
On my third, fourth and fifth day (that’s today) we went tombstone sweeping (grave sweeping? Burial sweeping?) Anyway it’s when the whole family goes and cleans up the area where your ancestors are buried, and offer incense and food as gifts. Then once you do that you ask for their blessings and protection from evil doings.
This was an interesting experience to me, as I don’t remember any of it from the last time I went. And I’m intrigued by how many rules there are. Things have to be placed a certain way, things have to sound a certain way, and things have to be done in a certain order. Spiritually speaking I guess you can say I met my great grandparents and great-great grandparents these past few days.
As fun as that was though, now I’m exhausted from all the walking and climbing. These graves are not set up on nice flat grounds, they’re up hills and mountains with no real paths to them. You literally walk into bushes and trees to find these burials. I’m amazed that we can even find half of these places!
Finally though tomorrow I can rest a little bit, and explore the city a little. Then on Tuesday I’ll be heading to Shanghai, which I’m excited to see!