Tomb Sweeping Day.
A national holiday here in China where families get together and sweep off the tombs of their ancestors. I was lucky enough to get an invite from my wonderful neighbor to go home with her to her hometown to experience Tomb Sweeping Day first hand! This was my first actual trip to rural China, and I was pretty stoked!
It started out a bit rough with what was supposed to be a 2 1/2 hour car ride to the south of Zhejiang province that turned into a 6 hour car ride. Welcome to China! Where our traffic jams don’t just last for miles, but for entire provinces! By the time we arrived in my neighbors home town it was 10 at night, but we still had time for a quick dinner with the parents of one of our students. I quickly learned the local customs for ‘gānbēi‘, which is sorta like cheers in America, although here in China ‘gānbēi‘ technically means you have to finish your drink. I learned that one the hard way. However, the custom where we were was that if you say ‘gānbēi‘ and just touch fingers and not clink glasses you only have to take a drink, not drain the whole cup. So if you clink, get ready to drink! (You like that one? I’m pretty proud of it.)
I woke the next morning to the sound of chickens and motors outside, and it was oddly soothing. We had breakfast with my neighbors mother, father, and paternal grandparents who live with them. Breakfast was a simple meal of a hard boiled egg, rice porridge and different types of cooked bamboo. I like breakfast in China, but boy do I miss coffee.
After breakfast it was off to the family tomb. We were going to visit the tomb of my neighbor’s great grandparents which was right by the tiny little village where her grandfather lived and her father and aunt spent some time as children. We arrived at a beautiful little creek with hills of bamboo all around us.
After many pictures with the strange foreign girl, aka me, we set off with flowers to the actual tomb.
Not wanting to force myself into their family traditions, I stood off to the side while they cleared off the tomb and burned the old brush and flowers from last year. Then my neighbor and her family lit incense and decorated the tomb with white paper ribbons so that the spirits of their ancestors would know how to return to their tombs in the nighttime.
It was all over much quicker than I thought, but I was just happy to have been able to witness even just a slice of real China.
The rest of the long weekend turned out to be just as great. My neighbor’s family was extremely hospitable, and it seemed to me that people in rural China are much nicer than people in the big cities. I suppose that is true for most places though.
One of these things is not like the other…
After we had a lunch homemade by my neighbor’s nǎi nai (paternal grandma), we went off to a local strawberry farm to pick strawberries!
By the time we were done we were stuffed full of strawberries, but it was off to an ancient part of the town where my neighbor’s mother grew up.
They were very excited to show me the brothel.
The ancient town was really cool to see, and because my neighbor’s grandmother grew up there we didn’t have to pay to see anything. They were even going to put on a special little play for me! Can I say celeb status?
When we returned to town we stopped to pick up my neighbor’s lǎo lǎo (maternal grandma), and went off to the restaurant we ate dinner in the night before. This was one of only two restaurants in the whole town! Dinner was once again delicious with lots of calls for ‘gānbēi‘ and compliments on my chopstick skills. I was also given some wax berry wine, which the area is famous for, to try. At first I though, “Oh yay, I love wine! Especially local wine!” Wrong. So wrong. I really need to learn that here in China when they say ‘wine’ they usually mean báijiǔ. Wax berry ‘wine’ was no different. It is just wax berries soaked in báijiǔ. I hate you, báijiǔ, with such a passion. In case you don’t know báijiǔ is a really strong liquor made from rice and/or other grains, and it is foul. Old Chinese men looooove it though! I would rather take a shot of 151 Rum than a shot of báijiǔ, and that is really saying something. I will stick to my píjiǔ (beer) thank you very much!
The next day was once again started with a simple breakfast, but this time my neighbor and I set off for the Xian Ju Mountain after we finished. When we arrived I suggested that we hike up the mountain instead of taking the cable car because we were there to hike after all! Where is the fun in getting to the top of a mountain when you just take a cable car? (My dislike/fear of cable cars had absolutely nothing to do with that decision…)
I like hiking, but about half an hour into the trek I regretted my decision. I don’t know about you, but when I think of hiking, I think of walking steadily uphill on a dirt or earthen path. Nope. Apparently Chinese hiking = stairs. Lots and lots and lots of stairs. Give me a path any day, stairs can just go die. It took us about 2 hours to get up to the top of the mountain and by the time we got there we had eaten all of our provisions (pork jerky and fruit), and we were pretty ready to never ever set eyes on a stair again. The view at the top was pretty spectacular though, and it was way more satisfying than it would have been if we took the cable car.
I was happy to walk back down the mountain, going up is way harder than going down after all, but my neighbor wanted to take the cable car. Damn. I thought I would be able to avoid that. We had to cross over a bridge to get there, which to me was much less scary than the cable car itself.
When we successfully made it down the mountain without dieing (I wasn’t really worried or anything…) we had a nice, big dinner cooked by my neighbor’s mother and grandmother. After dinner I successfully managed to make the neighbor’s 5 year old daughter cry. You see, the neighbor’s daughter had never seen a foreigner before in her life, so when she found out that there was a foreigner staying with her neighbors she told her mother she wanted to bring her flowers! How sweet! But when the time came, she was so nervous about meeting me that she wouldn’t come downstairs. When her mother picked her up and carried her she started bawling and wouldn’t look up from her mother’s shoulder. Cristina, striking fear in the hearts of young Chinese children since 2014. We tried again later that night, and she was brave enough to face little ol’ me. I took a photo with her, and got these pretty flowers from her in return!
That was my last night in rural China, the next day we made the trek back to Hangzhou. It only took about 4 hours to get back, instead of 6. Improvement! The countryside was beautiful and the people were even more so! I hope that this wont be my last visit to a rural area of China. I have so many more children to scare!
As usual, explorers, never forget:
Adventure is out there, so never stop exploring!