I have so much to tell you about my trip to Quzhou for Chinese New Year that I can’t fit it all in one blog post so bear with me the next couple of days as I try to put everything into words.
新年好 Xinnian hao means Happy New Year in English. The lunar new year began on January 31, 2014 and begins the year of the horse. My student Spring (Chinese name: YuLu) invited me home with her for Spring Festival and I had a fantastic time.
I boarded the overnight train around 7 pm on Tuesday night and would arrive at 6:30 am the next day. This is the first time that I have traveled completely on my own since coming to China and I was a little nervous. The other passengers on the train were very helpful in making sure that the conductor took my ticket and gave me my boarding card. They come by and wake you to take the boarding card shortly before reaching your destination to make sure you don’t miss your stop so I had no trouble getting to Quzhou.
When I got off the train, Spring was waiting for me on the far side of the security gate, along with a trove of taxi drivers that were calling their “Hello’s” trying to get passengers. As I put my overstuffed backpack and purse in her uncle’s car I wondered what Spring’s village would be like. I had been told to never go to a friends home empty handed so I took two small gift bags for Spring and her family.
As we wound our way down the dirt road I could see blue in the sky for the first time since coming to China. There were orange trees, rice fields, and gardens with cabbage and carrots on either side of the road, and mountains with bamboo forest off in the distance. When we finally got to the village, I saw a couple young boys playing in the streets with no fear of being ran over because there were no cars on the road. There was an old lady sweeping the front stoop of her home and a wrinkeled old man squatting on a small stool behind the gate leading to his yard.
Spring’s parents do not speak English and I do not speak Chinese, but when I got to their home, her dad greeted me with a highly accented
“Hello, Chrissi. Welcome.”
It wasn’t until later that I learned he had practiced that phrase for hours the night before I arrived to welcome me.
The house was very traditional I think for China, but I felt like I had been transported back in time by about a hundred years. There was a wide ramp that led to the large double doors of the entryway to their home. Doors which are always open regardless of season or temperature. Each door had a poster of a Chinese warrior on it the “door god’s” that ward off evil from entering the house. The first floor was plain concrete walls and a large dining area with a high, square table and four narrow benches, one on each side. There were a couple low stools and two bamboo chairs in the corner of the room.
For dinner the first night they went all out. Not only was it the beginning of Spring festival but the first night with a house guest, an American, which for Spring’s family was a high honor. There were about five meat dishes on the table for dinner which is rare and all the best dishes were placed next to me. I asked Spring what each one was before trying them. There was roasted duck head, chicken feet, pig intestine and homemade sausage along with several vegetable dishes and a bowl of rice of course.
They complimented me on being able to use chopsticks and thought that it was very clever that I am left handed, a rarity in China. I immediately knew that my sparse gifts to the family were inadequate from the first night I arrived. I brought them a liter of cooking oil and some candy canes from a care package I received from America.
After dinner Spring took me upstairs to get settled in for the night and showed me to my room. To wash up for the night Spring’s mom gave me a small fingertip towel and a thick piece of cheese cloth along with two bowls, a large and small one respectively. Spring translated that the large bowl and towel were for “face” and the smaller one for “ass”. She apologized for the word and said she didn’t know how else to say it in English. I just laughed as I headed to the bathroom to use the squatty potty and wash up for the night.
The bed was very traditional as well, just a box spring with a small layer of padding over it, covered with a sheet. I had a plug in water bottle to keep me warm, in the unheated room, and fell asleep almost immediately.