ZJ’s childhood home, well technically village, referred to as his hometown, holds a special place in my heart. Chinese New Year trips, apple picking in the fall, celebrating my father-in-law’s 60th birthday and our winter wonderland wedding five days after the Year of the Horse galloped in.
Life in Ren An Village was not only quiet, minimalist, and marked by the three meals my mother-in-law whipped up for us, but a home away from home. I came and went through the courtyard and rooms as I pleased; followed my nephews, in-laws, and ZJ to the fields, apple orchards, and to the nearby lake situated below the village. Ren An Cun 仁安村 sits on a plateau, and the lake in said plateau’s basin. At night, on our just-before-bed trips to the facilities, looking up into the night sky, thousands of stars would twinkle right before my eyes.
Even with the language barriers, I never felt excluded, gawked at, or victimized with furtive glances when guilty of a cultural faux pas. Nor when I stumbled through a conversation peppered with Mandarin smashing up against the Shaanxi dialect. There is something to be said about how my in-laws, other relatives and neighbors, although having never met anyone non-Chinese prior to the 2011 Chinese New Year, made me feel welcome.
After every visit, my mother-in-law ensured ZJ and I would not go hungry, sending us off with steamed buns 包子, fresh coriander 香菜, and yumian 玉面, the local dish of ZJ’s hometown I referenced here. I learned to appreciate a hearty bowl of porridge 稀饭 and more deeply appreciate steamed bread 馒头. Two former colleagues at the university in Xi’an thought I had gone mad when anxiously explaining how I ate steamed bread with nutella and jam…loads better than purchasing the whitest white bread in existence at a local supermarket in Xi’an. I guess filing this one alongside eating raw garlic would serve us all best…and sorry, I will not apologize for what those two colleagues considered further evidence of my weirdness (can you guess what else they considered weird?).
I honed my Mahjong 麻将🀄️ skills and a specific style of a Chinese card game (whose name momentarily escapes me). My opponents were mostly my sister-in-laws but I did occasionally play with ZJ and my brother-in-laws. ZJ and I bought UNO in Xi’an at one of the megamalls near the Bell Tower, teaching all of my in-laws how to play. I also brought TAKI, best described as Israeli-style UNO with me from the States, teaching them to say “Akruch,” the Hebrew word you must shout when you have one card remaining in your hand. I did try to get my nephews and younger sister-in-law to play TAKI or UNO in English, but to no avail, and instead served as a nice way to practice Mandarin or the very basic Shaanxi dialect I picked up after more than seven trips.
ZJ captured the pictures organized in the gallery below. He spent several weeks at home in June one year ago while I finished up classes and finals in Xi’an. And just in case in needs to be said, no retouching of any kind went on, so yes blue skies do exist in China!
Day 22 will reveal ten of my favorite songs…you can bet there will be Chinese songs that make the cut! 😊
Dear readers, do you miss something/someone/someplace? Share your thoughts in a comment below.