Friday, April 22, 2011: Family Day
April Ancestor Worship
Today was a day spent mostly outside of Shanghai. I woke up, ate breakfast, and hopped in a white van again. This time, I did not know where we were going or what we were doing for the day. If it weren’t for Xiao Wang and the windows, I could have been kidnapped lol. Luckily it was not raining that day, but the skies were cloudy and ominous. So off we went, Kelly and I, Mom, Lin-Ai (that’s a better spelling of her Chinese name), Qing Qing, and Xiao Chen, together to some place far away. It was more like Kelly and I did not know our destination; Mom and Lin Ai knew precisely where we were going.
We were driving very far on the highway. Buildings were shrinking and becoming more dispersed. We were definitely moving out of the core of Shanghai. The question was, to where? I couldn’t ask Mom because she was absorbed in a sisterly bonding session. Kelly and I were amidst a deep conversation with Qing Qing (and Xiao Chen at some points) about many things. For instance, we passed large stadiums, the Shanghai Stadium (how creatively named) and a nearby one, and I asked what happens there. She said, “Well, many popular Chinese artists come here to perform and sporting events are played. I’m sure you don’t listen to Chinese singers.” Oh how we were underestimated; Kelly and I responded, “Haha, yes we do!!! We LOVE Asian music.” We took her by surprise, and she started naming famous Asian singers, including Emil Chau, Andy Lau, Jacky Cheung, Faye Wong, Lee Hom, Jay Chou, etc… and we knew them all like the alphabet. Later in the day, we passed a giant billboard with Lee Hom’s face, I got super excited, “Hey look, it’s Lee Hom!” Shanghai is such a popular urban city, I would totally live here and attend concerts. In the States, I would have to take a 2-3 hour bus ride to Mohegan Sun or Atlantic City, or catch a plane ride to Las Vegas. Plus, Asian artists do not perform very often in America; their fan base is still mainly in Asia, a whole galaxy away from me.
Our conversation also included life in America, because it’s a place my family in Shanghai has never experienced. It’s such a distant, mysterious place to them. So Kelly and I shared our lives in school, what we plan to study, life in New York, etc… They were interested in learning about our American lives, just as I was about life in China. For example, I learned that Chinese students tend to go into computer software, engineering, or business. In America, many Asian students in general enter medicine, law, engineering, or business, especially medicine and business. Medicine in America is one of the best in the world; it is a valuable, rewarding profession. In China, there is not an immense demand for doctors, as there is for software engineers and computer geeks. Lucky for Kelly, she will be going into the business field with accounting. She will likely have plenty of opportunities to intern in Shanghai and travel far and wide. Lucky duckling… That means for me, I’ll have less international opportunities in Asia; I’d be more needed in underprivileged places like Africa, India, or South America. Oh great, perhaps I will look harder and find some connections in an Asian country…
I knew the drive on the highway was long because I started feeling my motion sickness. By the time we DID stop, I was sleepy and slightly nauseous. Only then did I figure out where on earth we were heading. We were in a quiescent village area, sparsely populated and wide-open land. Mom, Lin-Ai, and Qing Qing got off and walked into a small stone house. They were picking out these special paper lanterns for burning purposes. They were like paper money folded into boats, which are burned as ‘gifts’ to honor ancestors. We were going to pay a visit to 外公 Wai Gong, my maternal grandfather.
I do not remember much about my grandfather. Last time I saw him, I was in miniature form, barely 2 years old. That day, Mom, Kelly, and I were back in China again, a chance to pay our long-awaited respects. It was also an opportune time to make that special visit, because the beginning of April of every year is 清明節 Qing Ming Jie. It is typically known as Ancestor Remembrance Day, where family members visit the departed and clean the gravesites. Paper gifts are burned, prayers are uttered, and flowers are laid. Nine years have passed for us, but we were finally back to visit our grandfather.
The cemetery was a medium-sized plot, definitely not as well-kept and green as Pinelawn on Long Island. The headstones were all large, engraved with Chinese characters, names and pictures of the deceased, and names of surviving family members in red. On my grandfather’s grave, I saw my family’s names, including myself. Kelly’s name was not there because she was not born at that time yet. We burned one lantern and prayed for good health, a fortunate future, and our Uncle.
Two paper lanterns still remained. We walked further back to a shady region. It was creepier further back near the trees, especially in the wet, cloudy weather. Making our way through other stone plots, we found our next visit. We paid our respects to Yi Fu’s parents, who I’ve never met. They passed away at relatively young ages. We spent a long time at their graves, burning the last two paper lanterns and citing our prayers for Yi Fu. I was silently praying for his health, minimal suffering, a speedy recovery, and a good outcome. I wanted my Uncle to be healthy and strong again, like the last time I saw him nine years ago. Now I will entrust the higher heavens to take care of him step-by-step, day-by-day, Haru Haru…