Above: We Chinese are dead serious about food
It was our first morning in Dabu. Today is the day I'll get to see my great grandfather's house for the first time, and have lunch with my new-found China relatives there.
But first, an errand of grave importance: "Lunch" at my great grandfather's memorial stone.
It's ancient Chinese tradition to venerate one's ancestors, based on the belief that they in turn will continue to look after and guide their descendents from the other side. During major festivals -- such as Chinese New Year, Qing Ming (tomb sweeping) and the Hungry Ghost Month (where the dead are given a one-month pass to roam among the living) -- as well as during during big life events, it is custom to offer food to one's dead ancestors. The belief is so deep seated that it survived even the mass bludgeoning of Chinese culture and traditional family bonds during the Cultural Revolution.
Dabu these days is a bustling urbanised town, so we're on the road for half an hour before the landscape starts to turn green and the pace of traffic starts to slow down.
We approach the village and drive under an arch heralding 2 words that translate to "Five Halls", or "Five Paternal Cousins". My eyes widen and I start to laugh uncontrollably. My Dad and Babs reckon I've lost it.
Between guffaws, I read out the sign in Mandarain: "Dad, you didn't tell me we were part of the Wu Tang Clan!"
We pass a large plaque that pays tribute to all those who helped to finance the building of the road between town and village. I'm proud to note Dad's and Ah Pak's name on the list. Ah Pak -- my Dad's first cousin -- is our link to our relatives here. He comes back every few years to visit his siblings, and over the decades has contributed towards the building on roads, schools and temples alike around here. The overwhelming hospitality our merry troop is shown here is due much more to the respect our relatives here have for Ah Pak rather than the novelty of my arrival, I'm convinced.
Finally it's a 10 minute off-road trek uphill to the memorial stone. Great grandfather died more than half a century ago obviously, and his initial grave was elsewhere. This memorial was erected only in 1996 because that's when the family could afford it. I'm not even on the property ladder yet and now I find out we might not be free from real estate upgrades even in death?!
Zhiguang's wife sets up the lunch offering and joss sticks so that Ah Pak, his brother and Zhiguang can pay their respects. I was raised protestant, so Dad, Babs and I will hang in the back.
But before they get started proper I sneak a quick preview of lunch for later. I spy noodles, rice cakes, salted chicken, braised duck, suan pan zhi (yam gnocci), savoury glutinous rice, fuji apples and oranges... and... well that bottle may say fruit juice, but the fumes say it's Chinese wine.
The view from the memorial stone. I'm not convinced great grandfather can actually enjoy this, but at least I can.
Now that great grandfather has been "fed", he'll want a big night out on the afterlife town. And so he'll need some spending money. Or so ancient Chinese logic goes.
And so Ah Pak and Zhiguang get down to sending him some, the old-school Chinese way. They buy a ton of hell money for burning. At traditional Chinese funerals, stacks upon stacks of these are lit on a pyre, together with elaborately constructed and painted paper houses, paper cars, paper credit cards, paper mobile phones and whatever else one can imagine to make the afterlife more comfortable.
And now the grand finale. Firecrackers. An alarmingly large roll of it. I am a wuss when it comes to firecrackers -- the result of a Singapore upbringing, where firecrackers are illegal and every Chinese New Year brings sensational news stories about idiot kids blowing their their hands or their eyes into oblivion because of this stuff.
So I'm going to stand over here and just max out the zoom on my camera, thanks.
About an eternity later the long string of explosions are finally done and I can see our group again through the smoke. It's time for lunch at the house now. Sorry, wassat? I'm deaf. I can only hear ringing in my ears.
IT'S TIME FOR LUNCH AT THE HOUSE NOW!
We didn't have a red-carpet welcome coming here, but we sure as hell have a red carpet exit now.