Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Taking life for granted

During my childhood I spent weeks living abroad. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I spent a considerable amount of time in Canada, but I also went to China a few times visiting my mother's side of the family. The last time I had an extended stay in the motherland was more than twenty-years ago.

My co-worker asked me if I knew where my grandparents were from. I do, but in the most general sense. On my mother's side, my grandfather was a general in the Chinese Army, serving under the Intelligence unit (at least from what I gathered). My maternal grandmother was his second wife. They lived in the "city" of Canton, in the province of Guangzhou (or Guangdong). When I went to China I had the luxury of staying with my grandparents who had a flushing toilet. It flushed, only when you poured water into the bowl. We didn't have a bathroom with a tub. Instead, we showered on the roof top occasionally in a plastic tub. And there were rats in the complex. This was the City mind you.
Above, Toisan
Below, Hoiping

However, my paternal grandparents were from the same province, but literally from the villages of Toishan (Toisan) and Hoiping. No one else from my family has visited the village except for me, and I don't even know which village, but most likely Toisan since it is a male centered society. For a three year old, I remember seeing where my father was born, where my grandfather was raised. These are shoddy recollections I have. A dirty waterhole in the middle of the village utilized for cooking, drinking, and washing. Farm animals literally out and about, and villagers. Chinese villagers. My father took me to the burial site of some of our ancestors, but if you asked me who I wouldn't be able to tell you. There are two strong memories I have of the village, one is walking into the "brick house" structure where my grandfather lived prior to leaving for the US. I remember asking my dad where he slept (later of course, I find out he moved to Hong Kong at the age of one). How did he get on the ledge? Why weren't there any windows? This is rural poverty. The memories still stay with me to this day, even though I have not been back since. And I know nothing has really changed in the country-side. China is still quite dependent on their agricultural sector.

I was perplexed about the dirt floor. Surprisingly, I don't remember being an obscene brat on this trip. The second memory I have is of my father talking to one of the villagers (clan members, whatever). I know I must have been bothering him because my dad told me that if I caught a chicken I could take it home. Now, as a three year old, you take that stuff literally. So I chased a chicken until I caught it (which was incredibly hard).

The last thing I remember is while working through the agricultural fields a fire was burning nearby. I know this happened because my parents brought their video-recorder and thought they turned it off. It's sort of funny seeing the camera sway back and forth with glimpses of smoke. This was perhaps not the ideal situation my parents imagined when they went to venture out to the country-side.

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