In Sydney, my father was getting old. His back was aching, and his legs were weak. “I ought to take my grandchildren to China,” he said, “to visit the villages where our ancestors lived and see our countless relatives”.
We arrived at Taishan on a beautiful sunny day. Taishan is a county in the province of Guangdong, in Southern China. Our aunt, my cousins and their families still live there. There is not much farming nowadays. Villagers live a simple life and rely primarily on family members working in the big cities.
We were lost at first. A loud and friendly woman by the rice field phoned one of our cousins, then pointed to a pathway through the rice fields. The woman and my cousins knew each other – they all do, living in small villages.
The villages were strikingly beautiful, with lush rice paddocks surrounded by small streams. The houses were rustic with white-washed walls that were fading away.
Our aunt and cousins were waiting for us outside the village. Under the fig trees, aunty cooked us a delicious lunch. Villages gathered around and watched us eat, talking and laughing.
After lunch, we walked to aunt’s house, along laneways lined with houses built with blue and grey bricks. I was fascinated by the doors, colourful and vibrant
My little boy entertained himself trying to figure out how to break up a large block of ice with a ‘head chopper’ knife and to pump water from a well.
The massive block of ice was for a 2-year old girl’s ‘shaving party’ that evening. It is a tradition to have a banquet for a one-month-old birthday. However, if a little one misses out on the one-month party, it will be replaced with a ‘shaving party’ when the child turns two. The whole village is invited, a big community event.
Under the beautiful fig trees, men were busy cooking up a feast, using the simplest cooking equipment and utensils that were well-used and rustic.
We visited many houses and enjoyed their homemade traditional snacks. So may sweet and savory dumplings to try out.
I have not seen my aunt and cousins for over 35 years, but I still remember vividly how poor they (and we) were. During my teenage years, I once stayed with them over a summer holiday. We fished for frogs, clams and snails – they didn’t have much food to fill the kids’ hungry tummies. I remember my late uncle, skinny and hunching, carrying a heavy load of organic (e.g. human) fertilizer to the field, using a bamboo stick and two wooden buckets.
Today, my eldest cousin, Zhong, is a trained mechanic. Zhong travels across China with his son to maintain and repair machines. They live in a newly built house that is modern and spacious. My second cousin, Yuan, married a dim sim chef. They have a lovely teenage daughter. They are wonderfully warm people who opened their homes and their hearts to us.
We said goodbye to my aunt, cousins and their families. We hope to return one day very soon.