This article was written by Marta Lovisolo, who studies in an high-school at Nanjing since September 2012. She lives with a Chinese family so, when she refers to her dad, mom, sister and so on she’s actually referring to the family that is hosting her.
Click here to read my interview to Marta, an insider point of view on the life of Chinese high-school students.
But I stop here. Let’s Marta do the talk!
Getting to the village
Celebrating Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, with a Chinese family is much more than spending new year eve together.
My Spring Festival started on the train that was supposed to bring me to my hosting family. I received a text message that said to get off the train in Lingshi instead of Yuci.
So at five a.m. I arrived at this tiny station. The first thing I noticed was that, even if our train was huge, only other three people got off with me. Moreover, the platform was covered by the snow. I was discovering the “peaceful” side of China, a side that till now I’d seriously thought that didn’t exist.
At the station I met the first of an infinite series of shushu (叔叔, literally it means “uncle,” but it’s a term quite general that may refer to any male older than you), who brought me to his house.
My father’s home
When we arrived home there were so many shushu and ayì (阿姨, aunt) that I got an headache!
I was introduced to everyone and then we all got on the cars and climbed a mountain in the middle of nowhere, heading to the native land of my baba (爸爸, dad).
When we got there, I had the impression that we were landed on Middle Age, if it wasn’t for a big parking at the end of the street.
A poor land, a land that doesn’t know globalization where a white devil like me caused a big mess.
We had dinner outside because there wasn’t any place that could host all the people of the village at the same time. It was cold, really cold. Bit I was feeling well.
After lunch they brought me to visit the house where my dad grew up: a hole in a clayish wall of the mountain. After seeing this place I respected even more this kind man that is hosting me since last September. Today he’s a rich man who can afford big cars, houses, fireworks and fine dinners. But when he started he had nothing.
And then we met grandpa, grandma and Mao Zedong
We then drive to Yuci, where I met my grandparents. Even if they knew that I wasn’t… well… Chinese, they couldn’t refrain from making some comments about the color of my skin and hair.
In the living room there was a white statue of Mao Zedong, almost as tall as me. My grandpa exploited one of the few moments in which I was alone with him to interrogate me in the only language he can speak: the dialect of Shanxi (山西, a Chinese province).
“Who is he?”
“Mao Zedong,” I answer.
“Does Italian people know him?”
“Does your school books talk about him?”
At this point I was afraid that he was going to ask me what did I think about the Chairman Mao. From the West it may seem an easy question, but I can assure you that here the answer isn’t that easy. Luckily he didn’t ask me any opinion.
As in Cinderella fairy tale, but without the prince
I had planned to spend the time before New Year Eve studying Chinese. How wrong I was! My mom decided that we had to clean up all the house before the arrival of all the family members.
She “hired” me and my sister to clean the floors of our apartment and the apartment of our grand parents. I don’t know why, but here to clean the floor you have to bend down and use a rag, which must be washed every twenty seconds on the sink that is installed in the other side of the house.
From an external point of view, the result looks like the initial scene of Cinderella. The only difference is that I got a Chinese sister that can’t stop to sing.
When we weren’t busy cleaning floors, we had to attach the red decorations on each door, window and wall. They are supposed to bring lucky and wellness to ALL the members of the family.
Finally New Year Eve
At the end we got to the big event. For New Year’s Eve we ate the jiaozi (饺子, Chinese dumplings) prepared by my mom, as the tradition wants .
Then we sat in front of the tv waiting for midnight. We were watching a show that, I suspect, gets the same share of the Super Bowl in US.
At eleven thirty my dad stood up and ordered as to go out. He opened the trunk of his car and took out a bunch of fireworks.
I was with him when he bought them a couple of weeks ago. He spent 5000 kuai (about 800 USD). He seemed happy, as if he did a good deal.
It’s difficult to take a pic of fireworks. But it’s even more difficult to describe them with words. What I can say is that, in a second, my dreams of little child became reality: for about an hour there were waterfalls of lights coming down from any corner of the sky.
The morning after, the first day of the Water Snake year, we woke up quite early as we needed to visit all our parents and friends. I knew about the tradition of giving a present to the children, an hong bao (红包, that is a red envelope full of cash), but I wasn’t expecting to receive it myself.
I was wrong. Again. The friends of my parents considered me aa part of the family and I got plenty of hong bao too.
Later we had lunch with the family of my father and dinner with the family of my mother. We spent the following days having lunch and dinner with a bunch of people. I felt like we didn’t stop to eat and drink for a week.
As I said, I was planning to spend my holidays studying Chinese and preparing some exams.
Instead, I exploited this chance to understand a bit more this country that is conquering me every day a bit more.