Monday, 19 October 2009

China- Day 3 (28/09/09) Part Two

Continued from Part One.

Chor Pek Kong
(The family's ancestral saint)

I was brought up as a Buddhist with the usual disciplines of Taoism, Confucianism and more than the six of the best thrown in. I started to lapse in my belief in God during 9/11 and ultimately gave him up when the Beslan disaster took place. But one thing that’s been ingrained in me is the Confucian virtue of filial piety; in short an absolute and interminable respect for my parents and ancestors. As the McCartney’s song goes; When I find myself in times of trouble or in my hour of darkness I turn to my Dad, Grandad and the good chap above. By resolutely believing in their spirits; words of wisdom and the proverbial get out jail card are always granted on me. Religions cause too much dependency for anyone and I can’t deny the fact that my conviction echoes that. Ancestral worship without a belief in God is my religion and I don’t speak for my Mum, my daughter, my brothers or my relatives. Let it be.

Warning, this post includes some graphic shots of animal butchery that may prove too gruesome for the fainthearted.

Cousins Juneberry and Hua.
This is the preliminary session at the 'home' altar

The game of Mah Jong is played whenever and wherever, be it weddings, Chinese New Year, funerals or religious festivals. Excuses are plentiful when this form of gambling is considered. No Chinese person (except for those brought up in the West) would ever play the game without the vital accessory that's money; it would be too pointless!

Richard with his winning hand.
Just in case you're wondering, I can't play...Mum never taught me for obvious reasons.

Oink no more.

This was one of the six pigs that has been slaughtered earlier.
It's quite unnerving to observe how similar the skin is to us humans.

Preparing brawn

Sacrificial kid

It was unusual to see the animal...

...goat or lamb is hardly eaten in this part of China... much so that it didn't appear on the menu...

...and that same table was later used for dinner...

...all prepped and propped for the altar.

Getting ready for dinner

Chopping bamboo shoots.
The board! No one suffered from food poisioning as far as I was aware.

Salting to taste or it could well be MSG

The Chinese have their meals comparatively early, brekkie at 7AM, lunch at noon and dinner pronto at 6pm; for some reason or the other we always seem to be in a rush!

Uncle 7
Not the eldest but certainly the most important, he 'runs' the family interests.

Hai Yun
Or Sea Cloud in English; she's the redoubtable tour guide that the family have been relying on for years whenever they visit China. She's accompanied them from Urumqi to Shanghai. Tibet is probably the only place in China my Mum and her siblings haven't been to. Give Hai Yun a problem and she'll always fix it!

Most of the villagers here are farmers and the above was nice enough to let us interfere with his work.

Soy beans

The farmer's son clearing excess foliages

Sweet potatoes

Uncle 9
The youngest of Mum's siblings, she has thirteen of them. Like Uncle 8, they both went to Japanese universities and are suitably bilingual. If I ever have aspirations to write a Wild Swans on the family then I'll need to consult him as he is the only one who bothered to chronicle the tree. Unfortunately the knowledge he has amassed is also in his head; I need to spend some time with him soon.

Sweet girl, sweet potato

Dinner imminent

Perspective showing my granfather's 250 year old birthplace.

Bamboo shoots and pork

I've gone off pork belly on my third day in China!

Clam soup with tofu and pork again.
Two different kinds of soup plus a minimum of five other dishes are normal during lunch or dinner.

The Deities await

Prompt start of the ceremony at 7.30pm.
This will go on for the next eight hours.

Friday, 16 October 2009

China- Day 3 (28/09/09) Part One

The climate in Fujian province is pretty similar to the rest of South East Asia. Hot and humid, no wonder why my Grandfather and his contemporaries chose the likes of Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines to find their riches.

Yong Chun at midnight...

...and at 6AM.

Our hotel for the next two nights. For the town of Yong Chun it's 5* but in reality it's more like two and a bit. That bit accounts for free broadband.

When in China don't diss the colour red!

Rush hour time at 6.45AM

Guava and peaches.
I really feel sorry for these fruit sellers when Tesco and the French counterpart Carrefour move in big time into China. Currently the number of Tesco superstores in Malaysia is enough to spook me.

Sea Cucumbers anyone?
I can't think of a more slippery texture than these costly delicacies. they're not the jaws of some rodents but dried deer tendons.

Ah, the cigarette vendor. He invited me to have a cup of tea with him (a common practice in this part of China where tea brings the people together).

The Chinese only smoke brands that are made locally, it's difficult to find the usual brands like Marlboroughs or B&H here. Fags range from 30p to over a hundred quid for a packet of 20! The above is a posh brand that carries an alarming reputation of- if smoking is going to lead you to an early death then might as well do it pleasantly with Chunghwa cigarettes. It was dead smooth tasting and so it ought to be as it set me back £7.50.

Breakfast at 7.30AM
The plastic tablecloth is off-putting to say the least!

Fried dough stick in warm soy milk. It's amazing to think how blandness can equate to deliciousness.

Julie and Gwen

Cousin Chris from little Tawau in East Malaysia

(Gawd I do miss you!)

My Grandfather's village near Nan'an.
Nearly everyone shares the same surname here.

The whole place is surrounded by hills upon hills.

Newfound wealth is responsible for these new buildings...

...or extensions of little architectural value.

Wells are still widely used

Intrusion time

Grandfather's home before he left as a teenager.
(the above shown is a new building that might well surprise him if he was alive today)

The gathering of the indigenous and overseas relatives.

The altar being prepared for tonight's marathon ceremony

Chor Pek Kong
The patron saint so relentlessly dear to the Hokkiens.

Spirit Tablets
These are signs that designate the seat of my Mum's ancestors (Greatgreatgreatgreatgranddad and more).
I believe that ancestral worship of this kind is unique to the Hokkiens, Hakkas and Teochews. A defaulted and surefire family tree going back hundreds of years is thus guaranteed.

Counter altar

The room where my Granfather was born in more than a hundred years ago. I've been told that the furniture are even older.

Makeshift kitchen to cater for the next 48 hours.

These cooks are devastatingly skillful.

Sweet and sour fish
Filleting the above is simply not allowed, besides, the head tastes the best!

They could be related but I didn't bother investigating (there were too many 'relatives' to ask which football team they supported!), like myself they were watching lunch being cooked.

There's a video of the cooking and the subsequent luncheon here.

Hong Bak
Braised pork belly in soy sauce with aromatic spices. This is the all defining dish of the Hokkiens, it appears on every meal except breakfast. The near overdose of this dish was enough to put me off pork altogether!

The sign of a toothpick in use means that lunch was satisfying.

Setting off for a temple crawl after lunch.

Temple One

With the exception of the Christians, we're all obliged to burn joss sticks dutifully and that's at any Buddhist temples around the world.

No nails! I'm filled with wonder!

Monetary donations are acknowledged by writng the donor's name and uttered loudly to the deities.

Bicylces in China are fast becoming rare, they're being replaced by motorbikes and scooters.

Bedmat trader

En Loong and Pei Yi decided to hitch a lift from an unknown 'relative' instead of walking the entire three mile crawl.

It was a pleasant surprise not to witness any rude behaviour in the village. The hundreds of folks we met have been amazingly friendly and welcoming.

Every household here keeps pigs and that's a simple fact. The Chinese simply couldn't exist without pork!

She was supposed to help her mum but I interrupted.

Temple Two

The roof and the fittings are over four hundred years old.

Jiao or sedan chairs. Early 19th Century.

My late Grandfather, Yap Hui Hong.
The accreditment of his above portrait in the temple is for his philanthropic contributions to the village.

Back in London I can drink 1.5 litres of water a day but here in Oolong country it's quite different. Caffeine doesn't seem to be a problem for the folks here.

Seng Kee
One of the Kaikeelang or 'one of ours'. His story is interesting and tragic. He left the village when he was young to work at one of my Grandfather's sawmills in Malaysia. When he made enough money he decided to come back and retire. Unfortunately he renounced his Malaysian citizenship believing that China would welcome him back with open arms like Israel does with the Jews. Erm...the Chinese authorities turned him down citing they have enough of the population on their plate and he should return back to KL. The Malaysians on the other hand said sorry mate and serve you right for disowning us in the first place. He's basically stateless and he can also forget about paying me a visit in London. On a more cheery note at least he can enjoy his retirement in the village where he was born. A toast to you my good man!

We have to get used to this, out with the old and in with the new. If I do come back here in ten years' time the old Chinese buildings would all disappear as the villages and towns don't preach the 'listed building' philosophy like they do in Blighty.

Part Two