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When Retro is Avant Garde Part 1


I felt the liquid cold the moment it touched my face. I could feel each blood cell in my face start to crystallize. I finally understood why my sister had asked me the night before how often I showered in the winter, and when I said "Every day" she looked at me like that was the strangest thing she had heard. Water in the Chinese countryside, during Spring Festival, is very cold. There were many hints that the water would be very cold, the fact I had to sleep in my winter jacket even while I was under the electric blanket should have been the first clue. But the home made dumplings, the warmth of a family that had accepted me as family from the moment they met me had made me forget that water in the winter is, in fact, very cold.

I walked out of the bathroom and dried my face off. I walked out of my bedroom and into the main room.  The main room was connected to three other rooms. It was a simple room with a large table in the middle; this is where I had eaten dumplings the night before. Lettering, this in Chinese tradition is used to bring good luck during Spring Festival, hung on one side. The room was simple but well lived in and stately. It was for more extravagant, despite its simplicity, then the homes of the Nouveau Riche. The homes of the Nouveaux Riches scream and beg for justification of their status, while this home was poised ,dignified ,and unaffected by the judgment of others.

  I walked outside and despite the early hour some women were on the river bank starting the morning chores. The parents of my host were boiling water. I found that they heated water not with gas but rather using dried corn stalks that were put into the fire under the oven that heated the water.  The mother saw me and gave a gesture that all mothers know regardless of nationality, which get inside and don't worry, everything is under control. I went back and saw my sister she smiled at me and went outside to help her mother.  She returned later with a large thermos of hot water. I poured some of the hot water in the and mixed in some liquid cold and took my first countryside shower.

The main goal of Chinese New Year, it seems to me, is eating. Even in the preparation of the food you saw attributes that are long since extinct in American society. You had neighbors coming over to help neighbors cook. Now some of the readers may be from America and do not know what neighbors are. Those people who live next door to you that you never talk to, those are your neighbors. If someone was having a large dinner  people who waiting to go to another dinner would help them cook or set the table.

The meals were not mere meals , they were feasts. There were dozens of assorted plates with different kinds of noodles, meats, vegetables and at dessert time, fruits. People were busy drinking Bijou (traditional Chinese wine) ,smoking, eating, talking, catching up with each other,  and asking the foreigner many questions. Originally I tried to ask the name of every plate as it came out after my sister told me the name for the first few she said "I don't want to see your chopsticks ever stop moving."  Nearly all my tablemates were able to  hold full conversations, eat, drink (and some even smoked), all at the same time. I stayed with what I knew best, eating.

  As the meals finding themselves winding down everyone would disappear into different rooms. Some were playing Mah Jong, others sitting and talking. The constant clanging of pots, pans and plates made it seem almost like a 5-star restaurant. There was usually a television set on, but rarely anyone watching it. I found myself chatting with people in front of the space heater occasionally falling asleep sitting up in a chair.

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I could hear the clanging, feel the cold, and smell the food.
What a memorable time. I am looking forward to Part 2.