Family Matters

One thing I’ve learned during my few months in China is how important family can be.  Of course my family has always been there for me and I’ve met countless relatives over banquet dinners.  But growing up, I always attended these banquets with my parents.  Normally we’d have thirty people at two tables and an endless stream of fancy dishes.  I’d do my best to be polite and eat what was put in front of me.  Unfortunately, my inability to speak Chinese made these dinners uncomfortable.  I would sit and not my head when people talked to me, doing my best to appear as polite as possible.  In my head I wanted to have the meal, be polite, and go home.

But during this trip, I haven’t had my parents with me during these meals.  My first meal alone with relatives was here in Shanghai.  During the mid-autumn festival, I got to have lunch with my paternal grandfather’s younger brother’s family.  At this meal none of my relatives could speak English.  While our conversations were limited to my limited vocabulary, I definitely was able to make a connection with them that I had not made before.  Some of the meal we spent making simple small talk.  Other times we simply sat and ate the delicious food.  And yet throughout the entire meal I felt a sense of connection with all of them.  I had only met them a few times before but they treated me as if they had known me for years.  It felt good to be included with them.

My next family meal came in Taiwan.  My mom emailed me a week before our trip letting me know that I had relatives in Taipei and that I should arrange a meal with them.  Before the meeting, I had no idea who these relatives were.  I simply knew that I was related to them some how and that I needed to go to eat with them.  I went to purchase a few small gifts before the dinner.  Immediately after meeting them, I felt welcome and comfortable.  After some light discussion (they spoke English!) I found out that my grandpa’s father and this great-uncle’s father were brothers.  My great-uncle, great-aunt, their three kids, and one grandkid were all present.  While this may seem like a very distant relationship, they treated me as if I was a part of their family.  My great uncle told me stories about the three years he spent living with my grandpa while they were younger.  Hearing these stories touched me and helped give me a different view of my grandpa.  To this great-uncle my grandfather was not an elderly figure who took care of him like he was to me.  To my great-uncle, he was a friend and brotherly figure.  While I knew that my grandfather was an amazing man, it was very special to hear such personal stories of how he had changed another person’s life.  My great-aunt even began to cry a little bit as she remembered my grandfather’s visits to Taipei and Kending.

I think these experiences have definitely helped me to appreciate my family even more than I did before.  One of the biggest reasons I want to become fluent in Chinese is so that I can connect with more of my relatives.  I want to be able to hear more of their stories and learn more about my family history.  I’m definitely fortunate to have so many amazing family members all over China and am excited to get to know some of them better during my time here.