For the idea of home
August 24, 2008 § 2 Comments
Hainan Island, China – ancestral homestead in a small village about 2 hours drive from Sanya beach resort (host to Miss World beauty pageant 2007)
Verdant mountains, lush country, industry abounding everywhere. We were on the Eastern Expressway, travelling from Sanya to the village of our maternal ancestors. Stretching around me were glistening rice paddies and sun darkened farmers in conical straw hats weaving their way through the harvest. Here and there, we would spot brick farmhouses adorned with the ubiquitous line of laundry strung like a ragged necklace. I raced through this countryside, sucking up as much of it as I could, ensconced with my luggage in the back seat of a teeny, weeny, seaweed green chevvy that smelt vaguely of stale underarms, face to the wind and casting frequent grins of exhilaration to my sister in the front seat.
We are finally here. 2 hours of lawless highway and another half hour of bumpy dirt road later, Ling and I have been safely delivered to our ancestral home – the same one I stayed in when I was about 5 years old – also the place I last saw my great-grandmother all those years ago when she was 102.
I am totally blown away.
The way my relatives live here – eking out an existence by their bare hands, with the help of several water buffaloes, chickens, pigs and a couple of mangy dogs (trained as “guards”, but function more as leftover food disposals). The roof over my head has housed 7 generations of blood relations. It has seen the industrial revolution, the cultural revolution and is now languishing unaffected through the digital revolution.
I visit the rudimentary prep school that mum built over 10 years ago, watch livestock put to the knife in preparation for the feast the villagers are holding in honour of our return to the homestead, use a mixture of mandarin and hainanese to converse with the wizened, old matriarchs and stay up most of the night winning over the local kids by teaching them how to use my digital SLR and photoshop. I am then woken at 4am to witness the final slaughter of the last 5 chickens and 2 geese (because word got out about how enthusiastic I was in photographing the initial 2 chooks in the afternoon), and seeing as I am already awake, I rock down on my haunches and get in the vegetable prep assembly line. Snowpeas, spring onion and celery, here I come.
I can honestly say, it is an incredible experience – squatting outside on a dirt path that serves as the outside “wet” kitchen, taking part in a task that was probably done by women of 5-6 generations before me in exactly the same spot… Women whose gene pool I share and who could never imagine how far my life has taken me from this place.