Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Got into Nancha last night about 4:30. I say, "night," because it was pretty much dark by that time. Gets dark early in Beijing now, too, but not quite that early. This is definitely the north country. Heilongjiang is the northernmost province in what the Chinese call, "Dongbei." Dongbei simply means "northeast." The Japanese equivalent would be "Tohoku." But in the West, Dongbei was always referred to as "Manchuria," which means "home of the Manchu's." We don't hear much about the Manchu's today, but they are very significant in recent Chinese history, of course, because they ruled China in the Qing Dynasty. The Han people have always conquered their enemies by absorbing them, so the Manchu's are Chinese now. And Northeast China, which used to be called, "Manchuria," is now largely inhabited by the ubiquitous Han.

Today, we took a trip around the small town of Nancha. I say "small town," but actually, Nancha is a district within the city of Yichun. We went down to the river, and the winter swimmng exercise. Winter swimming is a popular activity for senior citizens in north China. There is a group in Beijing that does this also. They cut a big hole in the ice, then go for a dip in the icy water. Never tried it myself and cannot imagine anyone in their right mind wanting to. But the faithful are convinced that it makes them healthier, and they sure look it, so who knows? Most intriguing to me is the contrast between the spectators on the side of the pool (actually a hole in the ice covering the river), who are jumping up and down to keep warm, and the swimmers, who are wearing nothing but their swimming suits in the frigid water.

This evening, I had dinner with Sunshine and her family. Ever the gracious hostess, she made everyone stop and bow their heads so that I could ask the blessing. Then she went around the table and introduced all her relatives. As anyone who has experienced family in both cultures will tell you, family relationships are more complicated in China. In English, we have aunts and uncles and cousins. But in China, the terms differ depending on whether the aunt or uncle is related to your father or mother, and whether he or she is older or younger. In addition, there are two words for "grandmother," and two words for "grandfather," depending, again, on whether the grandparent in question is your father's mother or father, or your mother's mother or father.

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