Dong Guochang was born in 1934 in Fenghua. At the age of sixty, he builded a huge grave for himself in addition to two pavilions for future generations to rest when they visit him. The township head discouraged him from taking so much land for his grave that even the mother of Chiang Kai-shek did not own such a huge one. Dong, with rulers in his hand, went three times to compare two graves. Finally, he agreed to dissemble the two pavilions. Now, he becomes a famous painter in the village.
Ms. Ge was born in 1949 in Huangshakeng, Fenghua. She was sick and lost her vision at the age of five. One incredible fact about her is that she is better at housework than any other women in the village. Her home is always organized in a clean way. She is able to catch chickens and ducks walking in her yard based on her intuition and even to thread a needle for her aging neighbors. She walks without a walking stick. Resting between housework, she would step out of her home, walk along the trail near the stream, confidently arrive at the central square of the village, and chat with others in order to hear about important issues in the village. After the conversation, she would return home in the exact same route. She is gentle, nice, and optimistic, smiling all the time. No one refers to her as “the blind one” in a condescending tone. Many people even believe that her vision is actually better than the majority in the village. Her 48-year-old son lives in Xikou, who had a grandchild last year. In other words, this 68-year-old lady has already been a great grandmother.
Historical background: Chiang Kai-shek resigned from the political arena for a short period during the Republic of China
Jiang Xiaochang (in the middle) was born in 1921 in Xikou Fenghua. He is from the same clan as Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi). In 1949, Chiang Kai-shek lived in Xikou for half a year, visiting Xuedou Temple and Miaogaotai often. The Siming Mountain is steep; a sedan chair was the best means going up the winding roads. He was the bearer who carried Chiang Kai-shek uphill. Chiang was a very nice man, as he recals. He also considers it an honor, and his family takes delight in talking about it. He is 96 years old now and still healthy besides deafness.
During the Second Sino-Japanese War, gangs were active in the Siming Mountain. He was once abducted by a gang, and his parents borrow money for four days in order to save him. According to him, during the four days, although he had to be tied at night, the meals were not bad at all.
In 1949, Chiang Kai-shek* lived in Xikou for half a year, visiting Xuedou Temple and Miaogaotai often. The Siming Mountain is steep; a sedan chair was the best means going up the winding roads. It was this bearer who carried Chiang Kai-shek uphill. Obviously, he considers it an honor, and his family takes delight in talking about it. He is 96 years old now and still healthy besides deafness.
*Chiang Kai-shek: Leader of the Kuomintang
The old lady is from Shanghai. His father is a translator for a Japanese officer invading China. I was too shocked to link her with the gorgeous ladies from Shanghai. His father made a decent living in old Shanghai, and the family could be even classified as middle class. At the beginning of the 1950s, her mother disclosed everything that her father did during the time period ruled by Japanese invaders. His father was arrested, therefore. At the 1960s, he was released from the prison but lost the Hukou* from Shanghai. It was the age of food shortage, so the government tried to move people to the countryside to release the pressure of urban areas. The whole family moved responding to the call.
*Hukou: A household registration record officially identifies a person as a resident of an area
Near the Airport Road, a young couple is seen cultivating lotus roots. Passing by, you can always find them bending over. Even in the cold December weather, they wear thick water-proof clothing working in the field on their own. Chilly winter is the best weather for high-quality lotus roots, but picking them can be very complicated. Lotus roots grow at random directions in sludge, and every root has to be picked completely with one’s bare hands. The farmers have to be meticulous in order to prevent them from breaking. Bending for the whole day, the couple finds it hard to straighten themselves back again. Working for the whole year on the 10 mu* of lotus root field, the couple makes 100,000 yuan annually, which seems to be a lot for farmers, but only they themselves know the hard labor behind that money. (Fanshidu Village, Yinzhou)
* 1 mu ≈ 0.1647 acre
The story of picking lotus roots reminds me of Outliers: The Story of Success, my summer reading. One of the chapters in the book talks about why Chinese people are good at math. The answer lies in hard work. Chinese people worked diligently from generations to generations planting and weaving despite the seasons in past. These spirits are shown in the current generations. The couple picking lotus roots regardless of the weather to make a living. They inherited diligence from past generations, and I am sure that it will be passed to the future generations as well.
It was the Dong Village, Fenghua. The couple, at their eighties, were making pickles at home. In order to prevent pickles from going bad in the coming summer, they had to remove the pickles from the jar, cut them, and store them in the glass bottle. They lived in the house with a history of two hundred years. Their ancestors, who belonged to well-to-do middle peasants*, were united and protected by lower peasants and the CPC. However, the owner of the house next to them was not lucky enough. Since they belonged to despotic rich landlord group, they were shot on the spot, but when I asked them whether the landlords really did something harmful, they refused to answer.
*When I first published this article, I found misunderstanding between my dad and me because of some phrases he used in the original article in Chinese. When translating, I combined the article with historical background from my world history class. As a result, I messed up the concept between the middle peasants and rich peasants with higher social class. Later, my dad told me that there was huge difference between rich peasants and middle peasants in Chinese history, as those rich peasants took advantage of poor peasants and treated them terribly. I did not really get it at first because from my world history class, the rich should be eradicated because they inhibited the progression of a egalitarian society according to socialist and communist ideas. I learned that the CPC tried to eliminate the landlord class in the society and help peasants establish a communist society. Here, I treated peasants in Chinese history as a whole because I had never heard of the fact that some peasants were also executed by the party. The textbook distinguishes landlords and peasants, talking about how these two different groups were treated differently. At first, I thought it as an issue of studying history from different perspectives because I studied this in the United States, while my dad learned all these in China. The different ways that we approached and processed these information might result in the difference. We could be both biased due to the environment where we learned this. However, later, I came to know that it was not this case at all! I found out the true reason why we have such misunderstanding. Due to some translation issues between Chinese and English, some concepts could be confusing. The rich peasants in Chinese, which were the counterpart of Kulaks in the Russian History, actually belonged landlord classes in English. Technically, we are both right about it.
— Translated from dad’s WeChat public account photoscope
I was in Shimin Village, Banzhu Township, Fenghua. At about noon, I looked across the stream, noticing an old lady with a hoe on her shoulder. She was carrying a heavy bag of spring bamboo shoots, which was her fruits of labor for the whole morning, going downhill to her own house. Due to the continuous rainy days, the stream was fast-moving, and rocks were slippery. She carefully tried to test the depth of the stream but retreated for several times, finally staggering across the stream. I waited on the bank. When she was coming, I bought her spring bamboo shoots at a high price. She was pretty surprise. She then went home at a brisk pace, singing.
— Translated from dad’s WeChat public account 背影
In the Longgong Village, Ninghai county lives more than 600 families, only ten of which still have the tradition to brew spirits* with sweet potatoes. In spring, two big kitchen ranges were set up out of the old ancestral hall. The villagers started the fire below the ranges with wood and thick bamboo tubes; soon, the mellow scent of spirits crept out of the sky, reaching toward people. They added the white powder into sweet potatoes for the fermentation and mixed them with rice chaff at a specific ratio. When the ingredients were steamed in the kitchen ranges, the steam liquified on the pot cover would flow down to the ceramic jars incessantly. The product was spirits with high concentration of alcohol. The spirits brewed were mainly for themselves, rather than for commercial purposes.
A pot of noodles was placed on the table, which was probably their snacks in the afternoon. The man was so nice that he noticed my hunger and handed me a big steaming bowl of noodles with shredded meat. I ate them all, wiped my mouth, and was about to thank them, noticing the old people had not even picked up their chopsticks yet…
*Spirits: An alcoholic beverage, especially distilled liquor.
— Translated from dad’s WeChat public account 背影
It wasn’t my first time being in Paris. Four years ago, my parents and I went to Europe as I graduated from my elementary school that summer. We visited UK, France, Switzerland, and Italy with a group of other people from China and a tour guide, but this time, we got a chance to visit on our own. In his memoir, A Moveable Feast, the famous American author Ernest Hemingway has written,
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.
A feast of opera
Europe is the home of opera. Started in Italy, the quintessence of Italian opera was absorbed by French artists. In 1861, Charles Garnier took the responsibility to build a new opera house to replace the old one which had been burned down. Therefore, the famous Opéra de Paris is also called Opéra Garnier. I was really lucky that I visited such a fabulous place on my first day.
The front door of Opéra de Paris was pretty magnificent. With the combination of the ancient Greek and Baroque style, it had many famous composers’ statues, including the ones of Mozart and Beethoven, on it. However, we do not enter from the from this gate.
We entered here behind a statue of the famous designer, Charles Garnier. Below it was a map of the whole opera house. Visitors might not realize how big and amazing it was by only looking at this map. According to the audioguide, it had 2531 doors and 7593 keys for them. In the basement, there was a big lake. The story of The Phantom of the Opera, by Caston Leroux, happened just in this opera house, and the phantom lived in a house on the lake.
After going into the opera house, I was attracted by the staircase at once. It was designed like the ones in castles where the rich and elegant hostess used to walk down slowly. Nevertheless, here, I imagined the scene that many nobles, in fabulous clothes at that time, walked upstair talking to each other.
On top of the stairs, we were approaching two sculpture works standing for comedies and tragedies. Passing them, we finally reached the place where people enjoyed opera more than two hundred years ago. The horseshoe-shaped theatre had the biggest stage in the world then which could contain 450 actors and actress and 2200 audiences. Some of the audiences sat in the middle, while other rich people sat back in small and private boxes. I didn’t take a picture because it was too dark inside.
One room which I found pretty amazing was the room of the sun. On the ceiling, there was a huge image of sun shining out with great brilliancy in all directions. Four mirrors were placed around a light reflecting the light of the sun to infinity.
Here is the place where people had a rest during intervals. The whole room appeared to be golden, and I felt the extreme luxury of people watching the play. It also had a balcony which could provide people with the view of the Place de l’Opéra.
Looking from this quaint opera house, the view of the street was pretty modern, though.
A feast of art
Paris has various museums. I visited two of them during my trip, Musée du Louvre and Musée d’Orsay. I will talk about them specifically in my later post.
A feast of fashion
The center of fashion in Paris should be on Avenue des Champs-Élysées. On the 2.5-kilometer avenue are the stores, cafes, restaurants, cinemas, etc. Also, there are people, people, and people, everywhere, since it attracts tourists all over the world. They shop for all kinds of fashionable clothes, perfumes, handbags…
One end of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées is Arc de Triomphe. On the wall of the arc are four huge reliefs about the war. They are departure, triumph, peace and resistance. In the arc, the names of the generals traveling with Napoleon and victories are all carved. The 12 main avenues in Paris are centered around Arc de Triomphe spreading in many directions.
A feast of food
Paris has food from all around the world.
On my first day’s visit, I was not feeling well, so I had some simple Japanese food instead of steaks and dessert.
We had dinner at Hippopotamus near our hotel on our last day at Paris. It was a relatively cheap restaurant with delicious food and drinks.
Besides, we also had some Chinese food at a restaurant called 国宾 near Avenue des Champs-Élysées. The food was surprisingly tasty and authentic.