Before leaving China on Dec 31st, last year, I spent over 40 days getting a dose of China country living.
My family and I were living in the 2nd-tier city, Suzhou and our lease was expiring mid-November. We were waiting for my wife’s USA immigrant visa from the Guangzhou Embassy. Our calculations and best laid plans told us that her passport with visa intact would be in hand by the first or second week of December. Being in Carolina for Christmas was going to be a piece of cake…
…it ended up being my 10th Christmas in China. I learned a good lesson on plans not turning out the way you meticulous calculate, but also had a memorable, final China experience…situation…struggle….trial… The thing is, from my simplistic point of view and the way I saw and “experienced” things in that country was that nothing was ever completely pleasant. You may go out for a nice dinner there, but on the way to the restaurant you have to battle traffic and pedestrians that are beyond belief. You may find a cooperative factory but they produce the item wrong. The country gives a mid-week holiday and then mandates that Saturday and Sunday are working days. You get my point…with China it’s a constant “win/loss” battle.
So my final stretch of 40+ days in China was an ironic, final China “occurrence” to sear a memory into a my psyche and leave with me a full-blown view that I had only previously seen in glimpses.
Since we were about to leave the country for an indefinite period of time without much possibility of returning to live (still will return for business and family visits), it made sense to spend the last few weeks with wife’s mother and father… the in-laws. I had visited them and visited that area many times; never stayed for such a consecutive stretch.
Their home is in the northern portion of Jiangsu Province; about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Suzhou -where our lease just expired and where I had lived for the past 4 years. Their home is technically in Baimi town, which is a township of Jiangyan city.
My in-laws spoil me almost to the point of awkwardness. They’re smothering. Their
sweetness and the way they pour themselves out to their own family is remarkable. I always joke that I was hoping that once my daughter, their first grandchild, was born, that would take away some family attention and focus off of me. It did….some. Not much.
My father-in-law, has a home office. He moved everything out of there, lock stock and barrel so I could use it during my stay there. Ba and Ma would cook humungous meals, everyday for lunch and dinner for the whole family. Besides my wife, daughter, Ba and Ma and myself, there is also Wai Po, Ma’s 92-year-old mother (Wai Po is the “maternal grandmother”). For 40 days and 40 nights, sitting around the table, stuffing ourselves. Well, mainly it was Leeds and I stuffing ourselves, Ba and Ma didn’t eat that much, they mainly cooked for us. For a time I was concerned they were fattening me up, a la Hansel and Gretel, but that wasn’t the case. I did gain close to 15 lbs staying there.
The Chinese, as anyone knows who has dined with them on their terms, have some kind of compelling force where they make you eat; and if you don’t, they give you this idea that you just sucked all the air out of the party. Yeah, they aren’t sad about it…but you sure as heck didn’t show yourself to be a good sport by declining something.
That’s why it’s hard for me to feel sympathy at my wife if and when she complains about food here in the South; if I can slurp down bowls of pancreas and stomach soup with a smile on my face, then she can learn to… wait…she does have point, there is a conspicuous lack of vegetables in restaurants down here.
It’s a different feeling and atmosphere than most foreigners visiting China get to see. These kind of home meals you cannot find on a tour map or in 5-star hotel on the beaten path. This came from my time there. The build up of living, marrying there and then being absorbed in to a family.
That slew of days together, living in their “compound” out there in the sticks wasn’t easy. There were fun times, hard times and sad. China’s conditions are already “rougher” than most Westerners are accustomed to, but the further you get out in the country, the less accommodating the conditions become. Heat in the homes is an elusive beast; you get used to wearing your coat and thermal underwear in the home.
Sad because of the fact we all knew as soon as that passport and visa were in hand, we were leaving. Their family and “kids” who they poured so much in to for many years were leaving. Living in the same house and playing with their granddaughter was going to go to skype cam chats in different time zones.
As I’m sitting here in North Carolina, many of my personal things are still in that office that “Ba” gave me. He said that’s my office and they’ll be there for me when I return.