Thursday, August 4, 2011

A traditional Chinese Home

Having had the rare opportunity to be adopted into a Chinese Family who took us into their home in the country town of Shan Yin.  I would like to share with you our experiences.  I have never had such an experience of overwhelming generosity and care from an Asian family as I have had in China.  We were not only honored guests for whom the family had killed the fatted calf, but we were family!  All members of the family received us as one of their own.  It all began with an internet friendship with their daughter who wanted to learn English.  After two years of correspondence we decided to visit her in Suzhou which is a beautiful city outside of Shanghai.  Within a short time she called us her American Mom and Dad. She introduced us to Suzhou and we had a delightful time visiting the city and sites while sharing with her our most treasured possession, the gospel of our Lord Jesus, and our friendship deepened.  Within a few years she told of us of her impending marriage and invited us to attend.  She even arranged her wedding around when we could come.  She had since moved to a town closer to Beijing to the city of Tangshen.  We came and attended her wedding and the next week she invited us to her hometown to meet her family and attend a second wedding there.  

Soon after our arrival we were whisked away to the family home where everyone was waiting so we could begin the meal.  We were a day late in our travels and the festivities had begun a day earlier; much eating, much toasting, much drinking, much talking and jovial conversation.  They were enthralled that we knew a little Chinese and we laughed our way through many a conversation.  They wouldn’t let us pay for a thing including our hotel room, our bus travel, meals, etc. etc.  Truly, we were family!

Shakira in front of her family home

The street on which her family lives
Let me describe a traditional Chinese home.  Chinese homes are made of yellowish brick and are very like the tenement houses in England, however, when you enter the doors which are usually Chinese red with silver half balls stuck all over them, you enter into a courtyard with 3 separate buildings, the compound being in a U shape.  Each building has 3 rooms with the largest having 5 rooms.

The front door

Looking out the main building of her home onto the courtyard.  You can see the door which leads to the street.

There were many decorations for the wedding celebration
Many people can live in one compound – up to 3 families and this is often the case. In the center of the courtyard is the well with a hose/pump from which they draw their water.  There is no running water in the houses.  There is no central heating system in the houses.  The rooms are cold in the winter and cool in the summer.  The only room which is heated is the room with the kang.  The kang is a Chinese bed entirely made of wood stretching from one wall to its parallel wall about 3 feet high.  It’s about the size of a King-size bed.   Because it is wood it is hard as a board so they put a rug down and cover it with linoleum.  The bed is heated by a coal stove next to the kang which heats the underside of the bed allowing the smoke from the coal to escape outside through a pipe.  This not only makes the bed toasty but downright hot!

The Kang - traditional Chinese bed with the little stove next to it that heats it during winter.
The kang is the meeting place for the family.  Everyone sits on the kang cross legged and they talk and enjoy each other’s company, they even eat their dinner on the kang!  The elder people sit at the back of the kang near the window while the younger sit at the foot of the Kang.

Sitting in Grandma's house in the compound.  The two ladies next to her are her daughters.  The gal sitting on the side is Shakira's sister.  Shakira is the one who got married.

The proper way to sit is cross-legged!

Shakira's mother-in-law on the left, Grandma, her daughter, and Shakira

Grandma, Wang Feng (the groom), Shakira, and her sister
The main house has 5 rooms – 3 bedrooms, a small kitchen, and an entry way.  They don’t have dressers or closets but red wooden cabinets about 4 feet high against one of the walls.  These open by lifting the lids (there are two) and this is where they store their clothes.  The flooring is cement with linoleum which looks like a fake wood floor.  This particular home is about 150 years old and only recently electricity had been added.  So they use electric kettles to heat water, electric steamers for making food.  They also have 2 burners on their coal stoves which heats the Kang in which they cook. 

The red dressers.  See the picture of Mao above the mirror?  He is still well-loved in China!
The other building which consists of 2 rooms is where Grandma lives.  She is 86 years old, is about 4 ½ feet tall, is absolutely delightful, has a beautiful smiling face but can’t hear a thing! We sat on her kang and visited with her and other members of her family laughing and enjoying the conversation.  They were all very curious about us, watching our every movement with intense interest, some trying out their bit of English, others posing for pictures with the foreigners.

The other building was used for a storage shed.  Okay, I am now getting to the bathroom.  These old homes did not have outhouses because people would just use the fields surrounding the homes to do their business.  However, in latter years outhouses were added to the homes to the front of the house and looked like little shacks.  So you had to go out of your house to use the WC as they call it.  This consists of a little room with a hole in the ground.  

It was fascinating actually being in a Chinese home mingling with so many people and being a part of the wedding activities.  How often does an American have an opportunity like this?

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