Vera invited me to meet her family and her boyfriend, “Hui,” (and his family) last Monday. It is tradition for people to treat family to lunch on this day during the Qingming holiday. But it’s usually reserved for just family, so before she could promise anything to me, she asked her family if I could come. I’m used to being the only foreigner for miles by now, but I still felt honored.
Vera’s father came to the school to pick us up and we drove almost to Wuxi along with Vera’s grandma and grandpa (waipo and waigong) in their silver minivan. Vera seemed nervous. Her parents and Hui’s (nan peng you) are starting the long process of their engagement, she told me. She couldn’t tell me much about the steps though. She said she wasn’t too familiar with the traditions.
When we arrived at Hui’s parent’s apartment, we were served two poached eggs in bowls of hot water. Vera’s aunt told us to eat the first one, but not the second. The second egg should be cut in half with our chopsticks. I struggled a bit with mine. For all my practice with chopsticks, eggs are one food that require a fork. Vera’s aunt told us that splitting the egg symbolize good luck for a new couple.
Everybody piled in the apartment’s small living room and watched some Chinese drama. I tried to guess who everybody was, I met Vera’s parents, her aunt and grandparents, a cousin, and her boyfriend’s family: sister, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins. I lost track.
We all piled back in the van to drive to a large restaurant already packed with families sitting around large, round tables, banquet style. This is typical of large Chinese restaurants. It is also typical for men to get drunk and try to make enough toasts to get everybody else drunk, too. The lazy-susan was set up with numerous dishes as soon as we sat down. Duck roast, soups, veggies, shrimp, prawns, rice cake. I was constantly reminded to help myself and, “eat more” by Vera’s family members when I paused between bites. I guess that’s universal for welcoming guests—stuffing them with food.
Vera and her boyfriend didn’t sit next to each other at lunch, or even at the same table. They barely talked until later that day, when they took a walk through the park. Vera told me this is normal.
Yelling and scuffling broke out behind us in the dining room. All I could see was a group of rowdy men standing up around a table.
“What happened?” I asked Vera.
“A fight.” Too much baijiu, probably. Her aunt giggled and pointed to her bright pink cheeks. I may be part Chinese; I only had a little red wine and mine felt hot.
Vera showed me her old high school after lunch. We took a walk around the track and soccer field and plucked cherry blossoms off the trees. Living in Michigan for most of my life, I had forgotten what Spring felt like. The school campus was dead silent. Vera told me students were taking exams, and we only ran into a few on their way back to the dormitory.
Vera’s boyfriend and his friend picked us up with a new kite in their front seat. I associate flying kites with Kitty Hawk in North Carolina and the only one I have ever owned, cherry red with a green dinosaur. Kites are known to be invented by the Chinese, so it makes sense that I have never come across a park without them.