homage to the Ancestors

Midway through our New Years festivities, somewhere between dinner, Dragon Practice & fireworks, Erica’s Mom brought out some incense and paper money and the family went through an elaborate ritual to pay homage to the ancestors.

The Chinese government banned ancestor worship not long after taking power over 50 years ago.  Most photos of the family patriarch on the  mantles and shrines were replaced with photos of Mao & can be seen in last photo my post Xingping.  Government approval or not, the practice continued albeit a bit “under the table.”  With the recent relaxing of the rules in China, the practice has come back into the open.  As Erica and her brother and Mom light then incense, they bowed to the altar and said prayers.  Outside, Erica’s brother light incense and placed it at the threshold.

I found the ritual quit interesting; it is very foreign to the Christian beliefs that I was raised with.  I can remember in Sunday school being taught to look down at pagan religions but knowing these people and being an honored guest in their home I have a newfound appreciation for their beliefs and way of life.


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Dragon practice

Chinese Ma said that she was eager to show us our photos on the wall of fame in the town cultural center.  The local people had heard that we were coming to town and had been asking about us and asked that we drop by again to say hello.  On arrival, the town elders and the Mayor (center, top photo, smiling) were just finishing a meeting before the Dragon practice was to begin.  I wasn’t exactly sure what the Dragon practice was about but it would soon be explained to me.

Ma displayed the photo board and sure enough I can see my photo(s) in the top left corner.  I feel very privileged to be included in this community’s hall of fame.

After a while, the benches and chairs were pulled back in anticipation of the Dragon practice.  It was explained to me that there are several Dragon teams that compete for the privilege of blessing local businesses and public buildings.  On New Years day, the Dragon comes into the building accompanied by banging drums and clashing cymbals to scare away evil demons and to bring good luck.

One of Erica’s relatives was inside one of the costumes and would be performing the next day.  We were invited to come and watch the rituals as they went from business to business.  A week or two earlier, they sent out invites asking the local businesses if they wanted their Dragon service and several dozen responded.  A route was mapped out and the Dragon team would pass by all of these businesses and conduct their ritual.  In exchange, the business gives envelopes with cash and gifts of alcohol, sweets and other delicacies.

The practice was quite noisy with a lot of drum beating and cymbal crashing (below).  The Dragon team was quite energetic and danced all around the room and I kept thinking how this was a scene right out of a movie.  We still had a long night ahead but I was curious to see what the actual performance would look like.

I included the photo below to give you an idea of the practice and spectator areas inside of the cultural center.  Quite a few members of the community were present and there was a neighborhood camaraderie that we don’t always find in Western countries.  As always, I am impressed with the Chinese sense of community and their interaction with each other.


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gifts from America

As we were preparing our visit to China for the Lunar New Year holiday, we decided to brin some gifts for Erica and her family to say “thank you” for all of the hospitality that they showed us last Christmas.  We went shopping in Hood River, Oregon and no matter what store we went to, everything was made in China.  Hard as it was, we kept searching and just couldn’t believe that almost nothing is made in the US anymore.

We searched for the better part of a week when Anya found a local “tree hugger” shop that advertised “local products made by local artists.”  Sure enough, they had some beautiful sweat shirts advertising the beautiful Hood River (the city and river).  We purchased “hoodies” for the whole family and when we arrived we presented them with their gifts.  I’m sure that they will be a big hit and make wonderful conversation pieces especially considering the stir we made with our last visit.

Anya also wanted to get a “house” gift that the entire family could enjoy and we found a beautiful boutique shop in downtown Hood River.  The artist that owns this small shop makes hand-made ceramic bowls and vases that are painted with bright colors and flowers and are then are glossed and fired in an oven.  The pieces looked quite durable and we found a beautiful red fruit bowl that we thought would match the red motif of any Chinese home.  The friendly clerk packaged the bowl and I carried it all the way to China in my carry-on bag handling it with extra care so that it would not break.

The bowl was a big hit and our Chinese “Mom” immediately filled it with nuts, candy and fruits to serve to her New Years guests that would be coming the next morning.  I am sure that she will proudly display it for years saying her American “kids” brought it to her from America.

Throughout the evening – it was New Years Eve – we exchanged gifts, drank wine, talked, watched tv, ate and of course, lit off fireworks.  Due to the length of the post, I decided to make the fireworks post a separate entry.  In the photo below, I set the camera timer and we all posed for a group photo.

As the evening festivities continues, Erica’s Mom wanted to tell us a story about the stir that our last visit caused.  She said that the town elders and visitors at the community center talked about it for weeks.  The photos that we had taken and been in last December had been developed and added to the “wall of fame” in the community center building.  She said that government officials from Beijing had come to visit the town Mayor and Council and had asked about the westerners who had visited.  She said that they were very impressed that westerners had come to this small community to visit.  Erica’s Mom was beaming with pride.  In the photo below, she and Erica are displaying duplicates of the photos that were on display in the community center.


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