“Elder sister Mili, let’s play!”

This is the fourth day I’m waking up to the sound of fireworks. In this entry, I will provide you with an elaborate description of family dynamics here in China. To date, living with this family has been nothing less than amazing. During my stay, I’ve been introduced to no less than 35 family members at the breakfast/lunch/dinner table altogether. During the Spring Festival, family members and relatives visit each other, different people on different days. Again, I haven’t seen another Western person for… I don’t know how many days. To this day, I have met no prejudice, but genuine curiosity and interest from the Chinese, and according to my friend I am considered part of the family. I’m very grateful for the overwhelming kindness I’ve received. Every day is an adventure, and I don’t even remember every funny moment I thought I would write about here when it happened. I’ll try to do my best! This is what I’ve learned/noticed so far:

  1. At least in Jiangxi province, people are actually able to drive in a civilized manner (according to European standards).
  2. Family members randomly put food in each other’s bowls at the dinner table. They usually choose the best parts for each other. The collective nature of the culture can be observed here.
  3. When one of the grandmothers loudly exclaims in Chinese that “this brings you health” and puts something into your bowl, you are acting wisely if you just gobble it all up, and don’t question/think too much. This can be hard to do when you’re fishing up a wobbly, jelly-like pink-brown-violet thing dangling between your chopsticks. You will find it delicious. Don’t ask too many questions about the food, you will only get afraid if you do. If you want to ask, ask after you’ve swallowed.
  4. Pork stomach and duck’s feet and neck are actually delicious. So is boiled octopus.
  5. You need to understand that you are a part of a collective. Privacy isn’t a very prominent phenomenon here. This means that people might randomly burst into the toilet to get something while you’re doing your business, for example. This is considered normal.
  6. Chinese sweets, sweet and salty ones, are always packed separately no matter how small they are, and they are snacked throughout the day as a social ritual.
  7. Again, expect the unexpected when it comes to food. A cream-coloured sweet-looking thing in the sweets aisle at the local food market turned out to be made of fish.

Some days ago, we went to visit the biggest freshwater lake in the Jiujiang area, the Poyang lake. Migratory birds flock there in the winter and we saw several flocks of cranes resting on the bank. When we returned, we found that five other family members had arrived from Hunan province, and were playing mahjong in the parlour. When they found out I could speak some Chinese, they insisted that I should stay and sit with them and learn how to play mahjong. The dad brought us some tea and we played for hours. This is an addictive and a very fast-paced game, and our computerized version can’t really compare to the real thing.

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One day, we went outside with my friend and her small cousins for a random stroll around town. We walked into an empty schoolyard where we played on the playground for some time. Look at what we had on our feet when we went out. 😀

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There are usually around 15-20 people cramming themselves around the round table on small wooden chairs. There are some social rules about who gets to eat first, and who is the first to finish. It’s polite to leave some food in the bowl when you’re finished. This means that the family is wealthy enough to cook enough food. It’s also polite to make as much noise as possible. This means that you’re enjoying the food.

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Here are some pictures from our trip to the lake. There was a very, very heavy wind that day. I also spotted a live eel seller next to the road.

The other day, we went to the food market with an experimental attitude (me, my friend, her boyfriend and brother). Here’s how the trip went:

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Seaweed self-service. Chinese people like to eat all kinds of jellies, too.

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When I left, I thought I’d write about one entry a week. With this pace of events, I’d need to write twice a day! Tomorrow we’ll drive from here to Shenzhen. Now I need to go downstairs, they want me to practice my mahjong skills again!

Mili

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