Huanggang was cold, but this place was worse. There I was in a blanket cocoon, completely dressed, and praying that my toes wouldn’t get frostbite that night.
Earlier that day we (Queenie, her parents, brother, sister-in-law, and nephew) had arrived at Queenie’s aunt’s village, which had one main street with a few pharmacies, supermarkets, and other shops scattered along it. There was one hotel in town with a KTV (karaoke parlor). Clearly not a hotspot for tourists.
When we arrived, we first visited the aunt’s house. It was a simple structure with a hard concrete floor and a few wooden chairs in the living room. Apparently the aunt had recently returned here to have surgery in a nearby city.
Village houses often seem like expansive two or three-story homes. But once you’re inside, they often feel cold and uninviting with concrete floors and simple, bare furnishings. Perhaps houses here are meant to be more utilitarian than comfortable.
Once dinner came, we visited the grandparents’ house where nearly 20 people had gathered. I wasn’t sure who all the relations were. But most were the grandparents’ sons. They had six sons back when the one-child policy didn’t exist. Couldn’t have timed it better.
Dinner was what I had expected the Chinese New Year’s meal to be. It was a feast. Altogether, 16 dishes of vegetables, meats, soup, and a bowl of rice to make it just right. I was a little apprehensive about trying some of the more unrecognizable dishes, but I was grateful for grandma’s hard work. And for once, I really enjoyed the meatballs. Next year I’ll have to come over here for the New Year’s meal.
Later that night, we were ready to shoot some fireworks into the air. I had bought a small refrigerator-sized box of fireworks, and I was hoping for an impressive show. It wasn’t exactly as I hoped. The fireworks must have shot upward over 10 stories, but then they exploded without leaving a colorful display behind. I was somewhat dejected, but we did have fun lighting sparklers.
Queenie and I lit a few and spun them in circles until their flickering and hissing dissipated into nothingness. Queenie’s mom tried one too, but she got one with a short fuse. It didn’t feel like celebrating. At any rate, it might not have been my best show, but at least I could entertain someone for Chinese New Year.
Later that night, we went to another uncle’s house where we all sat on the couch and watched a dancing exercise video together. I thought it was a bit odd but mildly entertaining. After several minutes, the uncle carried a handful of bottle rockets into the living room, and all the men left for some fun on the rooftop. We climbed to the top floor, walked out on the roof, and lit one bottle rocket after another.
To be more precise, I lit one. Naturally, it blew up before it left the stick. The adrenaline rush was enough excitement for me. I was happy to be a bystander to the rest of the bottle rocket madness. We must have lit 20 before the fun was over. Time to return to the dancing divas.
The next day I got up with great relief. No frostbite on my toes. I’m a fairly haphazard breakfast eater, but I couldn’t resist dumplings crammed inside a metal bowl. Somebody had to eat them.
We had one last lunch at the grandparent’s house, and it was another feast. 18 dishes altogether. Grandma knew how to cook. Queenie steered me away from the table with all the uncles. Inevitably, they would want to toast the guest, and I wasn’t in the mood for another round of baijiu, which is essentially liquid fire.
After a hearty meal, some of the teens went outside and started throwing little red firecrackers at each other. They were half the size of a pretzel stick. I decided to participate. I was overwhelmed by my opponents, but fought back bravely. Red paper tubes littered the road. I wasn’t helping much with the anti-pollution drive in China.
The New Year wouldn’t be complete without a KTV bash. So we all plodded down main street to the lone hotel. They would be getting some business. And it would be entertaining. Probably not the entertainment they hoped for though.
It was noisy, glitzy, and smoky. Many of the relatives loved to sing. Some were good. Other were passable. And some should probably leave the singing to themselves when they’re having a shower. I fell in that third category, but being the lone foreigner, I was expected to deliver. After singing “You Raise Me Up” and “A Sky Fall of Stars,” I think they thought a star had fallen on my head. I agreed and gave the mike back to some operatic voices.
I can endure smoke, but when a fog envelops a brightly lit room, it’s time to leave. It hadn’t reached that level yet, but it would happen soon. I sat directly across from the smokers, but smoke has a way of embracing everyone. So I left, breathed a lungful of fresh air in the hallway, and entered Micah’s karaoke room.
No smoke, no noise, and one tired baby. This was my kind of karaoke.
We left soon after. Some of the relatives tried to give some money as a parting gift to Queenie’s parents. With some polite shouting and shoving, the offer was refused. Such is Chinese culture. I’m not good at rejecting free handouts of cash.
Chinese New Year had officially ended for me. I would leave Huanggang in a week. And I would teach in under a month. I had visited my good friends in Qingdao, celebrated Chinese New Year with Queenie’s family, and eaten several tons of dumplings. It was time to defrost back in Guangzhou.