meeting the extended family

First thing in the morning we came over to Erica’s parents house.  It was a long and cold night; the hotel in our Guilin suburb left a lot to be desired -  the window had a good 1/2 inch leak all around and the heater was quite feeble.  I ended up putting the extra bed’s mattress against the window frame and finally the room warmed enough to survive under the covers.  Either way, I woke with the worst bad Chinese wine hangover I’ve ever had.  The cold and dehydration compounded the misery.  As you can see in the photo above, we bundled up and stuck out fingers anywhere we could to keep them warm.

Funny thing about China, in many of the homes that I saw, the Chinese would sit in “open” living rooms wherein there is a ceiling and 3 walls but one wall is wide open.  To stay warm, everyone sits around a coal fire.  Not only is this not an efficient way to stay warm, it isn’t a very efficient use of fossil fuels.  With a minor adjustment in a furnace and a 4th wall (LOL) and also the use of a little caulking and insulation, China could probably cut its fuel bill in half overnight.  Oh, and whether you believe in global warming or not, it would cut their smog down as well: Chinese smog.

 As soon as we arrived at Erica’s family home, our Chinese Mom bestowed a New Years gift on us.  We were to soon find out that it is tradition to give red envelopes – filled with money – as gifts.  The men also gave cigarettes, and the children received pieces of candy and small oranges and other fruits were given to everyone.  We posed with Chinese Mom for a photo and thanked for the family’s generosity and hospitality.

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Within the hour all of the local cousins, aunts, uncles and other relatives came by to wish Happy New Years greetings to Erica’s family.  Erica’s Mom put out a huge breakfast and everyone mingled and exchanged gifts.  Even though we were not part of the family we were given gifts as well.  It seemed that everyone was giving us red envelopes, candies and all the men kept giving me cigarettes.  As I don’t smoke, I gave all of my cigarettes to Erica’s brother and he was quite happy to have a double gift portion.

After some time, the family – the entire family – went out on  New Years foot march to visit other relative’s homes who also lived nearby.  It became like a relative parade as we all walked down the back alleys and roads trying to shake off the winter cold weather.  Everyone was chatting and buzzing with excitement – the kind that reminded me of a big Christmas family “get together” back in America.

I noticed the remnants of the fireworks and the partying from the night before.  I let the family pass and shot a photo behind us of the tens of thousands of firecracker papers that filled the streets.  Some were already out sweeping and cleaning up, but most were visiting with families (some not seen since a year before).

We arrived at an uncle’s house and his wife and daughters made us feel right at home showering us with gifts of candy, red envelopes and piping hot cups of ginger tea.  The ginger tea is loaded with sugar and is syrupy thick and sweet and it is very enjoyable, especially after coming in from outside the cold weather.  Erica was busy translating for us as the extended relatives quizzed us with questions.  They were at first surprised to see westerners in their own home but treated us as honored guests – again reinforcing my respect and admiration for the hospitality of the Chinese people.

As mentioned before, the houses seemed quite drafty.  Perhaps this is by purpose so that the families are not asphyxiated by the carbon monoxide from the open coal stoves that burn on the floor in each family’s living room (below).  Again, I think that a central heating unit with external ventilation and some ducting to each apartment would likely (at least) cut the use of coal by 1/2.  It seems that in most houses and hotels I went to (even those with electric heating) seemed to have large gaps in window panes and door jams and cold air blew right in.  A few million dollars in caulking and window strips could save China billions in energy costs.

We all sat around the stove sipping our ginger tea, munching on small oranges and peanuts and giving out candies to the children.  More and more extended family members approached us, wished us Happy New Year and stuffed red envelopes into our hands.  I was very flattered by their polite hospitality.

By the end of the day, Anya and I each had a large handful of red envelopes.  Most of them had a 1 Yuan note and a few had a 5Y or 10Y note.  Again, I cannot express enough how endeared I was to these people for showing us such respect and hospitality; I have learned something from them – I think that most Americans (and other westerners) could learn something from them.


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