My father passed away six years ago, at the age of 64, he clashed on a majiang table in the village. This photo was taken by me, shows him standing in front of our old house built by him. It was winter, right after Chinese New Year holiday. This house looks strange because it consists of two parts: the left dark gray building was newly added, with tile flooring and larger windows, my father and mother built this part because the old clay wall house was embarrassing for a proud father of two educated kids: I am the second college student in the village, and my sister was the third.
Luo PingLiang 2011
罗平良和王家祠堂老房子 Julian’s Country Inn location and Julian’s father
This is not an ordinary room. It is part of a house of 77 years old. Note that the rafters are very low, doors and windows are also small.
One year after my father passed away, I took down the right part of the house shown on the photo above, the clay house, and built a six storey country inn. The tallest building in the town at the time.
64 is a young age to die, but his death was not that surprising in this town because many people, men and women of his generation, died young due to various medical reasons: cancers, diabetes, high blood pressure related problems. My father left the world in just one or two minutes while playing majiang with three men, his put his face on the table, other men thought he was just thinking…they did not call an ambulance, or sent him to the hospital because it was too late when they realized something was wrong about my father.
He has high blood pressure and diabete, just like many many people of his age in China, they cannot/could not adjust their old lifestyle to the modern times of abundance. People of his age from the rural areas in China lived their entire lives in civil war, political movements, hatred, exhausting laboring works, uncontrolled pesticides, hunger and very limited educational opportunities. After retirement, when they had the opportunities to pay attention to their health, their foods, they just couldn’t because nobody really cared for them literally, and they still ate like they were still in hunger, and had to work like a slave year after year, in a commune.
I had a uncle, my father’s older brother, he died of blood cancer at the age of 54, also a roof tile maker and hard worker.
Their parents, my grandpa and grandma, went through all the wars, political movements like the crazy Great Leap Forward Movement which led thirty million Chinese peasants’ death in the massive famine. Somehow, they lived much longer than their two sons. And it’s not just them, in general, my grandparents generation lived much longer than their children and they had no cancer, diabetes, etc. I wonder why. One of the reasons I can think of is, those old people spent their childhood and youth time before the communist party took over. Before the taking over, there were more wars but people were not crazy, they were poor but they had dignitiy, they were uneducated but they appeared to be wiser than their kids with limited education.
We have an old lady in her 80s living with us in our country inn recently. She enjoys the country living and will stay for the rest of her life, possibly.
She told me a story today:
I had a great uncle in the village when I was about 8. He and his wife had 18 sons, 15 survived and 3 dead – to be precise, the 3 boys were drown in their pig urine pit by their father right after their birth – the man was so tired of all the sons. He was expecting a daughter!
And he finally had one daughter, who shared a quilt with her parents, while 15 boys shared seven quilts.
The boys mostly became powerful somehow, many of them were officials of various levels. On their mother’s birthday banquet, the chef team had to prepare for foods for about two thousands and four hundreds guests/helpers – right in the village, outside of their big house.
Grandma Chen – how I call her now – was a little girl watching the chef/cooks killing goats, pigs and buffaloes, in the morning. Suddenly there was a big trouble in the kitchen: the flame went downwards somehow, under the huge rice cooker. The smoke was messing around in the kitchen, and everyone was worried that the rice won’t be ready before the banquet. The chef head walked in, he held tight some chopsticks, talked to the air a little while, and then suddenly pushed the chopsticks right in the middle of the rice, like there was a ghost inside messing up with them. And it worked immediately, the flame went upwards, and the lamp became bright.
Everyone was relieved. They had time to prepare for the first round of guests – the high rank beggars in the region. Those beggars all had tobacco rods made of curved bamboo shoots.
This week I visited a great uncle who is close to 90 years old, a cousin of my grandma, and took the photo above. It is the floor of an old house where he is still living in, alone. The house was built in 1940, according to him. In China, a house of over 70 years old is very rare, compared to the USA and Europe.
This visit inspired me to write a story of my father side grandparents, who have lived a life of constant wars and fights.
My grandparents, both my father side and mother side, all four of them, have passed away years ago. Every Chinese new year, my cousins and I would visit their graves and send our regards, before the New Year’s Eve and then the first day of Chinese New Year. That’s the only moments we communicate with them – all of them have gave me bath, fed me, took me in beds with them when we were little, warm our little bodies and cold feet in cold winter nights. Yet I am forgetting what they even looked like. They have become part of a story which is seldom told by their children.
As I am getting older myself, I sometimes hear a voice reminding me to remember where we are all from, how hard our grandparents worked for a better future of their offspring. I am not only the most educated grandchild of them but also the their first grandson. It is my duty to leave a copy of their legends in writing, before it’s too late — Now that some of their children including my father have also left the world, there are not many people in the world who can tell us what happened in their lives, in the many wars and tragedies. They are the people who gave us lives.
It is becoming very challenging to find out what happened so many decades ago, because even their children are losing memories due to old age. Today I decided to write about my father side grandparents, who I have more information about. My mother’s mother was also an extraordinary woman, compared to her husband. I might find another time to write about her and her husband.
PHOTOS OF MY FATHER SIDE GRANDPARENTS
There was no photos when they were young, I only have two of their old ages: my grandpa took a photo with his first grandson, me, on the same day. I was having a one-year-old birthday party. He was 70 at the time. The reason our family decided to take a photo for him was simple and traditional: the family would need a photo in his funeral, and it was time to do so.
His wife, my grandma, was much younger than him, and it was too early to take a memorial photo of her at the time.
We didn’t actually go to the town, or the city to take the photo. One of our neighbors had a camera and her family opened of the first, probably the only photo shop in the town of Jinjing, decades ago, before the CCP took China. My hometown Jinjing was an important and busy trading hub before the World War II, when the transportation was mainly by feet and boat.
I didn’t have much memory of spending time with my grandpa, a tall man. Many of my older cousins remember him sitting in a special chair, in front of the indoor fire pit, wearing a brown cap. The old man on this photo is not my grandpa, he is the younger cousin of my grandma, who still have a chair of that type. It is likely the chair was made half a century ago, just like the one my grandpa had.
He loved my younger sister more than my cousin and me, and spent a lot of time taking care of her when my mother didn’t have time to do so. At the age of nearly 80, he was retired and had plenty of time doing nothing. The poor man struggled for almost the entire life, and had just a few years enjoying being taken care of by people of his blood.
My generation, including all the cousins and my sister, do not have much memory of him. Some of them have never seen him in their lives. My cousin, his son and I visit his grave twice a year. That’s all the connection between him and this world. Even though he and I never had a conversation that I remember, and I do not remember even a second of his smile, I always pray in front of his grave to bring me love. He obviously had a woman who loved him so dearly, maybe he would show me a way to find my true love?
My grandma on the other hand, lived with us for many more years due to her younger age. She took this photo in her younger brother’s home in the city, when she was taking care of their mother. The old lady was about 90, and my grandma was about 70. You may wonder why they didn’t just hire a nurse, or send their mother to a nursing home. Well, it’s considered unfilial and unkind to send an old family member to somewhere other than his/her home. People working in a nursing home can never be as patient and loving as the family members. 1904: FUTANGCHONG VALLEY
My grandpa was the 4th child, the youngest one in his family, and a posthumous child. He lost his ill father when his mother was still pregnant with him. That was in 1904, Qing Dynasty. His emperor was Guangxu. This is the bank note released by the Hunan government in Qing Dynasty.
Four years after he was born, his mother also died, the four siblings became orphans with the youngest one was only four years old. My grandpa was raised up by his older brother, who was probably just a teenager himself. The second child is their sister who may be able to help. The family lived in a valley along with many other families carrying the same family name – Luo. [My name is Jun Luo.] I guess the elders of Luo families had a meeting in their family memorial hall in the valley, and the elders decided to support the four siblings until they grow up, otherwise there was no way the four siblings could all survive because their family was poor, probably had no land of their own. So with the backup of the Luo families in the village called Futang Valley, none of them died in a time the civil war never ceased fire.
Somehow I had the impression that my grandpa even had the chance to go to a school to learn how to read, for a year or so. My guess is that he didn’t have to pay because he was one of the boys who would carry the family name Luo, the school was funded by the entire Luo family in that valley. I am not sure how good he was in school, but he was not a typical peasant in the countryside, loved playing musical instrument Erhu.
In history, the Luo family has always showed greater respect to education in China. My grandparents spent a fortune on the education of three daughters, compared to other peasant families. My youngest aunt had the chance of becoming a teacher, or go to college, but that was interrupted by one of Mao’s movements. However, the seeds of education in our family still germinated: I became the first college student of my family, then my sister, then the two daughters of my youngest aunt. Before college, we all went to the same high school, the best in the county which only recruits the top ranking students from around the entire county. My grandpa never saw this but he must be very pleased in heaven.
Just a few months ago, one of his son-in-laws, my uncle, told me that my grandpa even joined a local band in our town Jinjing, after he married my grandma. It was almost a puzzle because they were having very difficult time of raising all the kids. How could he go to a temple miles away to play musics all night long up in a big mountain? I can only say that an artistic person only spend half his time living in this world, no matter what. I have heard from quite a number of people who knew my grandpa that he was enjoying music no matter what the life was like. His wife, my grandma, was the major backbone of the family and it seems she never complained about that. At least during our conversation she never complained about anything of her husband.
I guess my grandma fell in love with this middle aged tall man – my grandpa – partly because she thought she would enjoy some kind of rare romance if she married him, someone artistic, or probably because she believed a tile maker as my grandpa could always find food to feed the family, or she just loved tall man.
I am sure my grandpa was not a good talker so he didn’t win the girl’s heart full of sweet words. Good looks? I do not know. Nobody said he was good looking.
But no, my grandma had no idea nor passion in musics at all. In her whole life, her days were occupied by family, kids, food, fuel, cleaning, taking care of people. There was no room in her heart for musics, also I guess it was shameful for a woman to play music when she couldn’t afford maids/servants to take of the kids and her husband.
1941: HIDE AND SEEK
My grandpa met her in 1941 or probably 1942, according to my grandma’s cousin, after the Japanese invaded my hometown in 1939. The Chinese army and the invaders fought in my hometown which was about 60km north of Changsha City, on the way aiming at the city. It was in Changsha, including my hometown, the Chinese began to win the war. The Chinese army and the Japanese invaders kept coming and going in those years because both sides had victories and failure.
My grandpa, as the youngest of three brothers, after the first Changsha Battle, was picked by the local Chinese government to serve in the army, to defeat the Japanese. He escaped from the duty, just like many other younger men. He hid himself in a nearby town Jinjing, which is my hometown and latter on became his hometown. At the time he was already a middle aged man, 36 years old, but the Chinese army needed soldiers so badly so he was still chosen. Some men in their 40s were also serving the military duties.
My grandpa was divorced – his first wife couldn’t give him a child. Later on, that woman married another man just a walking distance away from my home, and she had a son and a daughter. So I guess the chemistry between them just didn’t work.
He was a trained master of black-tile making. One of the Wang families in Jinjing hired him to make black tiles before building a house. That’s how my grandparents met.
The Wang families were the second largest families in the town of Jinjing. Or I should put it this way. There were many families shared the same surname – Wang, at the time and still. They were one of the two main families who in fact controlled the town.
Where I am writing this article is a small village, and its name is Wang Jia CiTang, which means the Family Memorial Hall of Wangs. There was a compounds of connected courtyards on the land where four families now share. The hall belonged to my grandma’s maiden family.
Because my grandma was a young girl at the time, and my grandpa was a much older man who was divorced and poor, her parents didn’t approve the marriage. Very surprisingly, the young girl who didn’t even have a name in her family, just like all her sisters, stood up for her choice of man. She was thin and small, a hard worker, argued with her mother who was so furious about her daughter’s shameful decision. The girl never gave up.
I have only seen my grandpa when he was over 70 years old and couldn’t see any hints of good looks on his face – he was not an ugly man though. But my grandma came a family of higher class, quite a number of my grandma’s cousins, nieces are very beautiful so I guess my grandma was more attractive than her husband, and I can totally understand why her parents didn’t want to marry their daughter to this man.
I believe more or less I have inherited part of my grandma’s spirit of insistence. Both of us do not easily get persuaded, no matter how many people say what we do was wrong. Also, once we made the choice, we do not look at others anymore.
My grandma had the man he loved for the whole life and never let go. The cost was, she was kicked out of the family by her mother – and we can see where the temper came from!
Still, even that didn’t stop my grandma from chasing her Mr. Right. She was adopted by her aunt – the wife of her father’s older brother. And in her wedding she had a proper family behind her, instead of being alone. My grandma was very grateful of her aunt and her family who took her in when she needed family support the most. Even today, my Luo families still treat them the way my grandma treated them.
1944: TWO BOYS
They were married with no land of their own, no room of their own. But they were happy, my grandma soon proved she was a good wife. She gave births to two boys in just two years. That made my grandpa very happy. By the time he was already 40 years old and his chance of fathering another son was that promising when everyone was hungry and had no money to treat any disease.
Like many other families who had no land of their own, they had to rent land from the local landlords, if the harvest was not good, all four of them were hungry. My grandpa was not very good at finding solutions, grandma couldn’t let the two little boys starve to death, she had to turn to her parent, and crying in front of her father. The kind father took the family in, when he was having difficulty himself to feed his big family. My grandma’s younger sister was sent away as a child bride at the age of only 5 – a sign the family couldn’t feed the child.
After the Japanese troops bombing the town of Jinjing, the Wang’s family memorial hall had just some walls left. The Wangs couldn’t raise money to rebuild it during the war. So my grandparents lived in the abandoned house, for free, with the approval from her father – I think at the time her father was the leader of the entire Wang family in the town.
And they had a nice neighbor, the Maos, in this new home.
The Mao family was not as big as the Wangs in the entire town, but in the small village where the Wang’s Family Memorial is, the Maos were doing well, and could take care of my grandparents.
The Japanese came and left, in 1943, the 3rd Changsha Battle, the Chinese chased the Japanese army all the way up the north of Jinjing, and defeated them really hard. My grandma had become experienced in hiding, she was thankful that her father decided to stop bonding her feet when she was little so her feet was just 5% bonded with the two big toes on top of the 2nd toes but that didn’t affect her ability of walking or running. She put two boys in two large bamboo grain baskets, along with blankets and clothes, carrying them to join other villagers to hide in the mountain of Huangni Fort. My grandpa carried two baskets of rice and cooking tools.
When they were up in the mountains, my grandma put down the baskets to look back. She saw the battle had started, Japanese canons were shooting at the KMT’s forts. Some Chinese soldiers were fighting in a fort on the JiuxiSi Temple Hill, which is just 300 meters away from their home, and my home. The Japanese army, with better equipments, had taken the old street of Jinjing town, and all nearby villages including the one my grandma’s parents live in.
1946: GIRL’S NAMES AND BUFFALO-SHED
After six years of war, in 1945, finally the war was over, and their home, the last piece of the Wang’s Family Memorial Hall, which was on the side of a country road, were totally destroyed. There was no way to live in that place anymore. One of their neighbors, the Maos gave the couple a hand, letting my grandparents live in their buffalo-shed, which they didn’t need for some reason. They had a piece of their own land so they were doing OK – but they needed buffalo for farming so the buffalo-shed should be necessary.
In this buffalo-shed they had their 3rd child, a girl who was named as Clear Mountain. This is actually a typical male name. My grandpa chose it because he had chose one of the first names for four children, years before the daughter’s birth. The four words are Guo Zheng Qing Ping, which is a Chinese idom meaning
If the nation has justice, the people will have peace.
My aunt was assigned to accept the word Qing in her name, and her name was Qing Shan, a very interesting and unusual name for a girl at that time.
My grandpa not only chose names for all her children (my 2nd aunt is Nice Water and my 3rd aunt is named Becoming Fragrant), he also gave a name to his new wife, which was called Woman Wang, because she didn’t have a name until after the wedding. Her husband gave her a very common name – shuhua, which means Graceful. I guess one third of Chinese women shared that name at the time.
My mother, who was another generation from my grandma, had a name when she was born – the time had changed, women were having more rights in China. But her name was also very common, shuhua, exactly the same as her mother in law. Her father didn’t bother to spend time to choose a good name for her second daughter.
That was not only confusing, but also disrespectful so my grandmother gave my mother a new name – JinXiang, a typical name of a maid. My mother is not educated, not an independent person either so that name was happily accepted in her whole life.
My grandpa had very good relationships with all his daughters, but not so with his sons, especially my uncle, my father’s older brother.
That buffalo-shed was like our family memorial hall in my heart. It does not just symbolize the origion of our blood, but also reflects a close relationship between neighbors which can never be more valuable. After two generations, my family still keep a close relationship with this neighbor. He and I grew up together and we never hesitate when the other family needs help.
In contrary, even though my country inn is named Wang’s Family Memorial Hall [Wang Jia CiTang], I am just an outsider of the WangJia CiTang.
The Japanese was defeated but the peace didn’t return. Many bandits stayed in the mountains, and frequently came out to take whatever they needed in the villages, especially towns like Jinjing with substantial size and wealth. My grandparents didn’t have much to lose but the Maos hated them. The local villagers organized a self-defense team to protect them, and found out that many bandits were just peasants living in another town Shuangjiang nearby, where my mother was born.
Even today, there is a very clear gap in terms of characters between the two neighboring towns: Jinjing and LuoDai(also called ShuangJiang). Jinjing has always been more important, wealthier, graceful and civilized.
My grandpa was raised up by his elder brothers for which he was always very grateful. His oldest brother who was like father to him was never married for some reason, the 2nd child of the sibling was a girl, who more or less acted as the mother I guess. The third child, his older brother was married but only had a daughter. My grandpa had two sons, so he wanted to give the 2nd boy to be adopted by the married brother and his wife, as their son so that they would have a son to take care of them when they were old, and he expected this son would also take care of the other brother who was single.
I don’t know how he could convince my grandma to do that because they only had two sons, not three or four. But she agreed – my grandma loved the man so much, and was willing to do anything for him. On the other hand, my grandma was a kind person, respected by many.
So my uncle spent his childhood in a village about 8 miles away, and learned how to read and write there in a preliminary school.
When the oldest son Guoliang was eight years old, he caught a disease. My grandparents had only one baby boy and one baby girl at the time, my grandparents were so worried losing this only son. They spent every penny they had, still couldn’t save the boy. Guoliang died, and the couple had no son to carry the family name, my grandpa was already 43 years old. The average age of Chinese at the time was about 45.
1948： CIVIL WAR
Soon after Qingshan’s birth, the civil war between KMT and the Communist Party rolled all the way down south to Changsha. My grandparents had to hide in the mountains again when the flames of war was lit nearby. Their third son, 4th child, my father was born while hiding in the mountains. Ever since his birth, my father had a sense of insecurity. He hated to borrow money, hated to be in debt, take risks in life, and believed any attempt to start a business in his family is a sin.
By the time they had built a tiny house for themselves, where the family memorial hall stood for generations. My grandma’s younger brother was a maison, my grandpa could make roof tiles himself, so the cost should not be that unbearable.
In this little house, there were a happy family: a loving couple, a little girl whose name is Qingshan, and a baby boy named Pingliang. And there was no war in Jinjing anymore.
1949: LAND REFORM
KMT lost the civil war to the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, and left the mainland China for Taiwan, when my father was one year old. A land reform was soon carried out once the Chinese Communist Party took the power. My grandparents was given a piece of paddy field, but some of the villagers who owned land already were not so lucky, especially those big landlords. Their lands were divided and given away to others, including our neighbor, the Maos. They just spent a fortune to acquire a piece of paddy field with convenient irrigation, had it for maybe just one year and taken away by the local government, without any compensation. Their share became the same as our grandparents. Their land ownership certificate was burned into ashes in public, along with many other families’.
Even though they could barely feed their stomaches at the time with the foods produced on the small piece of land they just got, the family was still extremely poor, and the local infrastructure, after constant wars, badly needed repairing and healing.
My grandpa had more ideas of small business, compared to my grandma. He always had new ideas to stay away from the exhausting laboring work in the paddy field. Jinjing is over 60km north of Changsha City. He would buy charcoal from villagers living in the mountains, sell it in the city. The transportation was a one-wheel wooden cart. He left home at dawn, pushing the cart for 60kms in the morning, sell the charcoal at noon, and then get home before midnight. That means, in one day, he would walk for 120km, pushing a cart.
1952: AGRICULTURAL COOPERATIVE My grandparents didn’t have much time to enjoy the possession of the land, it was taken away in a couple of years. Every Chinese rural family was forced to join an agricultural cooperative. This photo shows a meeting in an agricultural cooperative held in 1954.
They couldn’t really feed more children at the time, just like most Chinese families. And they were happy with one boy and one girl. But Mao said the new China needed more new births, so there were no contraception tools or pills provided by the health system. After my father, my grandparents had more children. One girl infant died soon after birth but two younger girls survived.
In fact, the family was successful in raising kids because they only lost two kids. I have heard that in my village, a lady gave births to over 20 children, no twins, about 10 survived. Most people of my father’s generation have over 4 siblings. My mother has 5. One of my aunts has 11 siblings. I can’t imagine what kind of iron mother they had.
My grandmother was not the enemy of the laboring people because she had owned nothing before the land reform. But she had to work as hard as a man, or even harder, as a kind of unspoken punishment because my grandpa was seldom home joining the large working force. He was a tile maker. Making tile can only be in summer or autumn because the unhardened semi-finished tile needs the sun to dry in half a day or so, otherwise the rain or strong wind may break them. So during the harvest seasons my grand father always left home to work from town to town to make tile for people, to make money and buy food. Villagers were jealous because they had to work in the paddy fields in hot summer, while my grandfather could work in a workshop to make tile, which was quite comfortable because the high pile of wet clay conditions the room temperature. Also, he had better foods provided by the families who hired him.
The village head couldn’t say much or punish my grandfather, he punished my grandmother. My pregnant grandmother was forced to work in the paddy field in cold winter. The paddy field was muddy. No family could afford a pair of rubber boots. She had to work bare feet in cold mud and water in freezing cold winter, for long hours, alone, to get rid of weed roots off the field borders. That kind of work was usually done in spring and summer. So it was obviously a punishment or jealousy. My grandma was a very tough small woman. This is the only thing in her life I have heard she complained about.
That’s why she lost her second daughter.
This year’s flood was recorded in local archive. It destroyed many houses, including my grandparents’ home. My father was only 5 years old. When my grandparents were busy moving food and valuable items up to the hill. He saw the flood was coming and decided to help his parents by moving the shoes. He held all the shoes in front of the bed and ran up to the hill, didn’t cry, or panic.
The little boy was just like his mother, always took care of the family.
The flood destroyed their home and the Wang’s Family Memorial Hall was completely wipped out. Once again, they had to find a place to stay, and then start to build a new home. Luckily, as a tile-maker, my grandpa knew everything about building a house. The clay wall was still vulerable to flood but no family could afford bricks at the time. All houses were made of either clay bricks, or wood panels. The families lived in the street were closer to the river and they got flooded almost every year, so they tend to use wood panel as the wall.
1955: NEW BABY GIRL
My uncle, their second son who was adopted by his own uncle was a naughty boy, his new family sent him to study in school. But soon they found out that the boy was stealing in the village, and became out of control…he was sent back to my grandparents. My grandpa was of course furious but couldn’t do much about it. Wherever he was hired to make tile, he would take the son with him to keep him busy. My uncle learned to make tile from his father.
In 1955, my 2nd aunt was born. My grandpa named her Shui Xiu, which means Graceful Water. If we put the two girls’ names together, it becomes a very nice Chinese word which we all know: Shan Qing Shui Xiu [Mountains Green, Water Graceful, literally].
My father went to school this year.
1958: GREAT LEAP FORWARD AND THE YOUNGEST DAUGHTER Mao launched the Great Leap Forward Movement in 1958. Every family were eating in a big canteen, and broke their woks to make steel. The normal rural lifestyle and agriculture was in complete chaoes.
My youngest aunt was born that year. The baby girl had a loud voice, when she was hungry, she would cry like having a speaker in her mouth. My grandma had to give the baby girl more food, from her own bowl. Her elder brother, my father, a little boy at the time, was often angry at his little sister because he knew his mother had to work constantly, in the house and in the field. She would die like other adults if she didn’t have enough foods. My grandma didn’t die, and her little daughter turned out to be quite healthy, tall and strong later on. She even joined the malitia later on.
After the feast in the canteen, every village was short of food. Each family only got very little food in their bowls, and adults like my grandma still had to work all day long in the fields, joining others. People were getting panic, and soon there are people dying of starvation.
My grandpa took my uncle with him to make tile so they could feed themselves most of time. My father was so hungry, he would go back to the field, long after harvest, to look for dry leaves to eat, in winter. He didn’t cry for mommy to feed him.
1960: THE GREAT FAMINE
Many Chinese died in 1960 during the great famine, including some of the villagers, and one neighbor who was so kind to give my grandparents a buffalo-shed to stay when they had no place to go.
My father finished preliminary school education that year and his parents didn’t want to continue to pay for his education in middle school, on the other hand, his elder sister, went to high school. My grandpa thought a man could feed the family without much education, but a girl needed good education to live a decent life. That’s just his words – he would not admit he just cared for his daughters more.
Now whenever he was hired to make tile, he took two boys with him, my uncle and my father, so that my grand mother only needed to feed three mouths – my three aunts.
I think my grandpa’s skill was the key that no child died in the famine. With the income the father and sons earned outside, my grandma could buy additional food (I think) from somewhere…private properties were illegal…maybe my grandpa was paid with grain instead of cash, I wouldn’t know.
One day my grandma was walking home from the field after a whole day’s laboring work with other men and women. She was so starved and collapsed outside the communine-owned pig farm. The young girl working there was her neighbor, the beautiful daughter of the Maos. She got one of the best jobs working in the pig farm partly because she was smart and pretty, and knew how to read. The pig farm had rice to feed the pigs when the canteen had not enough rice to feed the peasants. She took my grandma in and gave a big bowl of rice congee which was supposed to feed the public property – pigs. It was very dangerious to do so because it was illegal to take food from the pigs for private purpose. My grandma survived that day. Among all the stories in her life, she told about this story the most frequently.
I can’t imagine what would happen if my grandma died that day. There was no way my grandpa could keep all his five kids alive.
This girl saved my grandma, but couldn’t save her own father. The old man owned a piece of land of decent size, for just one year or two, and he was still punished ten years later whenever there was a meeting held. The crowds would push the old man around in the middle. His legs were swollen and weak. I guess he died partly due to the humiliation.
A few months after that incident, the canteen was dissolved, every family could make food for themselves. The famine left. Villagers were grouped according to where their homes were. Each group occupies certain amounts of farming field.
1962: THE THREE LINES
When my father was 13 years old, he appeared to be very capable of most works in the countryside living, and therefore was chosen to work in the national Great Three Line project representing the village group. He joined hundreds of thousands of workers to work in the remote mountains in western Hunan to build railroads.
Life was still tough after the canteen was dissolved. My grandma joined the tile-making traveler group, along with two young daughters, and left the teenager daughter Qingshan at home, alone, who was studying in the local Dade Middle School.
My aunt Qingshan finished three years of junior high school education, but couldn’t continue studying in high school for some reason. Very few teenagers had the chance to finish junior high school in rural China, the high school that was open to teenagers like her was far away in the city and the family couldn’t afford her education anymore.
A young girl staying at home alone was not safe, my grandparents’ solution was to find a young man for her, the match maker introduced the Dan family to them, in another town nearby. My 16 year-old aunt married to the young carpenter who was 19.
1965: ZHENGLIANG’S LOVE STORY
When my grandmother was traveling with her husband, she had to help in the workshops to take out all the semiproducts and put them under the sun to dry. It was difficult for her to take care of two little girls. Also, the families were not willing to feed two additional mouths. So my teenager aunt Qingshan who just married and had no child of her own yet took her youngest sister Cheng Xiang as her mommy.
So her young husband, my uncle slept with both sisters in the same bed!
His health was never as good as his younger wife but today he is still alive while his wife, my aunt passed away at the age of 70. He sometimes still jokes about that he slept with two sisters. He is a very kind gentleman, I believe he inherited that quality from his parents because they could have said no to feed another mouth but they didn’t. They were living a very difficult life themselves. No family had enough food at the time.
My uncle Zheng Liang became a tall young man, while working as a tile maker, he was attracted to a young girl of the family who hired them in Yueyang City, about 50km away from Jinjing. The young girl was also attracted to him but she was already engaged. Her family found out and tried to break the love birds so they arranged a wedding very soon, only found out that she was pregnant!
Still the wedding had to move on, hopefully the young man would not find out. My grandpa dragged his son home. My uncle’s heart was broken. The girl’s parents couldn’t allow her to marry my uncle who had no shame seducing an engaged young girl! When my uncle heard about the wedding day, he lost his mind, went to the wedding to see his girl…
And he was caught by her bridegroom’s family, arrested by the policeman and sent to jail for years.
Ever since then, my uncle was living in shadow because people always looked at him as someone out of jail. He died of cancer at the age of 55. Before his death, when he realized that his time was over, he disappeared for a few days. The family believed he went to look for his oldest son living with his mom in another city, but nobody asked him.
1970 ~ 1972: BOTH SONS GOT MARRIED
By 1970, my father has become the backbone of the family. My grandpa was 66 years old, and my grandma was about 58. My father married my mother who was 20. The family was expecting their first child. Unfortunately the baby boy was born dead. My inexperienced mother was working like a normal woman when she was pregnent. That’s how she lost her first child.
My father was married before his older brother, who was having very difficult time to find a woman who was willing to marry him. In 1972, a matchmaker introduced a girl to him. My aunt comes from a family labelled as the laboring people’s enemy. Her uncle was once the mayor of the county in KMT government. In addition to that, she had very poor sight vision, not convenient to work. But my uncle had a family finally. His wife was a lot younger than him and soon gave birth to a boy.
Right after their wedding, my grandpa kicked the couple out of his house. They had to live in an abandoned house close by, where my cousin, the boy was born. The house had no roof and just part of the clay wall remained. It was dangerious to live there. Other family members and villagers all tried to persuade my grandpa to allow the couple to move back. The old man couldn’t say no to the baby boy, and agreed to take them in, living under the same roof.
Before that baby boy, my parents had another healthy boy – me. 1983: GRANDPA PASSED AWAY
As a tradition, my parents and my uncloe&aunt lived as separate families not too long after their marriage. So under the same roof, there were three kitchens. My grandma was taking care of three grandchildren: me, my cousin and my sister, while other family members were working with other villagers in the collectively owned fields by the village group of over 20 families.
In about 1980, after marrying their two daughters, my grandparents joined their sons’ families. My uncle was in a very bad relationship with my grandpa so it became my family’s duty to take care of the old man, while my uncle and his wife offered my grandma a pair of chopsticks on their dining table.
In 1983, my grandpa passed away at the age of 79. The man lived in three dynasties: The Qing Dynasty, the Republic of China, and the People’s Republic of China. In my memory, he never smiled or laughed, a tall man, wearing only black clothes, slim, stood upright like a pine.
My family paid for his funeral, while my cousin paid for my grandma’s funeral – at the time his father, my uncle, had already died years ago.
1990: GRANDMA PASSED AWAY
My grandma was small and thin, didn’t have much health problem until in her 70s when she had Alzheimers. She had good gene. Her mother died 97, her two younger brothers are still alive, one is 90 and very healthy, the other is 87, also in good shape. Unfortunately my grandpa side didn’t have such good gene of longevity. Their first boy died at 8. The 2nd child, my uncle died at 55, blood cancer; the 4th child, my father, died at 64. the third child, my aunt Qingshan, died at 70; None of them lived as long as their parents.
My grandfather died at 79, and my grandmother passed away at 77.
Even though it looks like my grandparents suffered more in their lives, the constant wars, etc, my uncle, aunt and my father never had a day of sufficient nutrition when they grew up, in addition to that, their bodies absorbed too much pesticides when they were young. After CCP took over the rural area, everything was messed up, nothing was normal or natural.
The entire generation of my father died young, many in their 60s like my father, a lot of them died in their 50s, at least in Jinjing. They had all kinds of cancers, just like my uncle. In my village, people like my mother keeps talking about such phenomenon.
Our Luo family has always taken importance in education in history. Such tradition made it possible for me to write down this story. If my grandparents didn’t impress my father about the importance of education, he would most likely refuse to support me in higher education because it was very costly.
My grandma not only took care of me everyday in my childhood, she also saved my life once when I fell in a small pond of pig urine. After my uncle died, she was living with in different families: my aunts, my cousin, and my family, I enjoyed listening to her stories even though there was not much time we spent together because I was studying in the city, only got to be with her during summer or winter vacations. All those stories were added into this article.
I wish you are living a very happy life up there, grandpa and grandma. I wish you are living as a nice and happy family with four of your children.
I believe that the only true religion consists of having a good heart.
wo[I] xiangXin[believe], weiyi[only] zhenZheng de[true] zongJiao[religion] JiuShi[just is] yongyou[having] Yike[a] Shanliang de[kind/good] xin[heart].
In western world, about half of the waiters are male, I think. While in China, 100% female.
So how do we call a waitress working in a restaurant? We used to call them xiaojie [miss](shouJay), later on, many people realize xiaojie might offend some of the girls because that’s how we call the prostitutes as well. So you should call the waitress [fuWuyuan](foo-Woo-ywan). On the other hand, if you are lucky to have a young man serving your table, which is very rare, you also call him fuWuyuan. In Chinese, we do not have two words for a person serving tables. fuWuyuan can be male, or female. One thing is for sure, they are not old. In Chinese restaurants, you do not see old waiters/waitresses.
Most restaurants add MSG to the foods.
How do you tell the fuWuyuan that you do not want MSG? say [buYao(no) Weijing (Way Jing/MSG)]. Trust me, most Chinese customers in China do not like too many MSG as well. It cannot be healthy.
Coastal region tend to eat foods not so spicy, while those living in the inner region of China likes spicy foods.
How do we tell the waitresses that you do not eat spicy foods? say [Bu chi La.](lit. no eating spicy/hot). She will understand. The sound is like [Boo tsir Lar]. Can you make the sound of tsir? It is written in this confusing way because in English there is no exact word sounds the same. It’s just a close sound. Attend our Skype class, we will teach you how to make these sounds.
Be very careful about the spicy foods. I have had a friend from LA visiting a client of ours in the city of Chongqing, we were taken to a restaurant specialized in Hot Pots. Very spicy foods. The poor LA designer ended up leaving the city in advance. On the plane his head looked like a basketball as he told me later on. He was allergic to that kind of foods. Most westerners’ stomachs are simply not designed for that kind of exotic foods.
Most Chinese do not know what these are: sandwich, cheese. Do not expect they can get that for you.
However, if you are in a hotel, they may be able to make that for you in a Chinese kitchen. How do you tell the fuWuyuan? say [you sanmingZhi ma?](have sandwich?)(yo san ming Dsir ma?); [you naiNao ma?](have cheese?)
You may need help to find a western restaurant.
say this to someone for direction [qingWen, nali you xi canting?](please ask, where has western restaurant?)(chingWen, narly yo shee TsanTing?)
Just in case you need a bathroom in a hurry after tasting the exotic foods!
Where can I find a bathroom? [Please ask, where has bathroom?] [qing Wen, nali you Cesuo? ]
Is there a McDonald, or hotel nearby? (They have cleaner bathrooms, or more likely to have toilets instead of squatting toilets only.) [Please ask, nearby has Maidangnao, or hotel ma?](qingWen, FuJin you Maidangnao, Huozhe jiuDian ma?)
In China, most of us go to a local restaurant if the time is OK, instead of a bar to have a drink with friends. The secondary choices would be a bar, a coffee shop，a tea house, or sometimes a western restaurant. So if we want to find a restaurant, we ask
[qingWen FuJin you Canguan ma?] [Please-ask nearby has restaurant?](chingWen Foojin yo tsan-gwan ma?)
If we would like to locate a McDonald for a cup of coffee, we ask
[ninhao, qingWen nin zhiDao FuJin you Maidangnao ma?][hello, please-ask you know nearby has McDonald?]
[nin zhiDao nali you xingbaKe ma?][you know where has Starbucks?](need dsirDao narly yo sheengbarKer ma?)
keywords: to drink (he); non-alcohol drinks (~yinLiao); alcohol (jiu)[jeo]; water (shui)[shoo-way]
Why isn’t a bar the first choice?
We tend to eat and drink at the same time. In a restaurant we can achieve that in a convenient way.
Tea is our traditional drink, and Chinese spirit. Wine and beer are not.
Tea house tend to be quiet, nice, traditional cozy feeling. Ba is more or less for younger generation.
wine = hong jiu (red alcohol); Chinese spirit = bai jiu(white alcohol); beer = pi jiu; juice = guo zhi (fruit juice)(goo-war dsir)
What are traditional drinks for Chinese and the proper way of receiving tea?
Tea, which we call cha(tsar), and Chinese spirit (baijiu)(byejo). Of course we have various types of tea, as well as Chinese spirits.
If you are invited to visit a friend in China, you will be served a cup of hot tea as soon as you sit down. The host will say to you [qing he cha.](please drink tea.), you are supposed to raise your bum off the sofa a little, and reach both hands for the tea to show your respect to the owner. Never use one hand to accept a good gesture from the host, a friend.
And you are supposed to say [duo Xie.](many thanks).
Shopping for drinks while traveling in China
Do you have bottled water? [nin you pingzhuang shui ma?](you have bottled water?)(neen yo pingdswung shway ma?)
I cannot find the milk. [wo zhaobuDao niunai.](war dsaobuDao neonai.)
Try to learn expressions and words from the following