My summer this year was spent far removed from the beach, the pool and the television. Instead, I lived the realities of the Chinese countryside and grew to appreciate a way of life so different from the hustle and bustle that characterizes Americans' day-to-day routines.
The day after we arrived at the Shanghai airport, we drove to my aunt's humble home in Wanjiang County, of the Anhui province in eastern China. Wangjiang is where my father spent his childhood; it is my father's true home. He didn't try to mask his rush and desire to return; I had never seen him so excited.
Wangjiang is the epitome of the countryside, complete with trucks, farm animals and endless crop fields. As we drove along the dusty, bumpy road to my aunt's house, we were generously and tearfully greeted by relatives standing on the side. Suddenly, firecrackers explode in a frenzy. I heard sizzles, pops and booms as the small crackers turned into bits of white lightning before my eyes. My relatives cheered loudly. My father explained that in Wangjiang, firecrackers show emotion and foreshadow a huge celebration.
Sure enough, a room full of people was revealed when I stepped into the house. My parents were seated first at a table full of food. An unfathomable variety of dishes took over the table. There was barely room for the essence of Asian meals, steaming white rice. Guests held a bowl of hot rice in one hand and golden colored chopsticks in the other.
As time goes on, neighbors and relatives from the town center trickled in. My aunt worked miracles seating everyone. The noise level only got higher and higher, to an impossible degree. Copious strangers who happen to be my relatives loudly recounted my embarrassing baby stories. Time isn't a concept here. My family ate, drank and told stories the entire night with abandon.
I soon learned that life in Wangjiang revolves around mealtimes like planets around the sun. Everyday, there is a solid breakfast, lunch and dinner regardless of any problems. Everyday, the retired neighbors mysteriously know when my aunt is ready to serve the meals and promptly arrive with grandchildren. Everyday, the level of noise during mealtimes is unnaturally loud in the idyllic country setting. Everyday, there is a special warmth that I've never known before.
Mandy Xu. More »