Coordinating transportation to and within mainland China was challenging to say the least. There are multiple bus companies and multiple pickup and drop off points. It took nearly an hour coordinating the bus ride to China from Hong Kong with the aide of Nicky, a Hong Kong native. The bus ride took us over the longest bridge in the world to an island where we went through immigration to mainland.
We then caught another local bus to Xin Hui. The driver did not inspire confidence when he asked some other people on the bus: “Where is the bus stop, I’ve never done this route before?” Again, the winds were at our back as we got to the right spot where some extended family swooped us up and took us to Dim Sum. My experience with Dim Sum is limited. But usually it entailed a waiter coming back with a cart piled high with bamboo rounds filled with dumplings, wrapped delicacies, deserts, meats, and noodles. Shouting loudly they would make one’s options clear. It’s been this way in Oakland China town ever since I started going to Dim Sum in the 90s, it was like that in Hong Kong in the late 90s. However, in Xin Hui, we sat at a giant table, and the host flashed her phone over series of QR codes, and like magic, a waiter from the kitchen appeared with the orders. There were no carts. No viewing the options. No discussing the freshness or the smell of whatever tantalizing treat came our way. It was now: “Bring me x” and out x came.
Seeing Extended Family
Sometimes seeing family is awkward, especially if the family is distant and unknown. However, Sharleen’s family was warm and receptive. They welcomed us right away and made even me feel like a close sibling. We had a filling lunch with some great aunts and some cousins. Sharleen caught up on the family relations and latest news. Food always makes things easier. Kylie opened right up and I smiled a lot and contributed where I could (which was very little as my Cantonese is not great). After lunch Sharleen’s cousin in-law Syliva took the extraordinary steps of driving to the local train station to help us purchased six sets of train tickets throughout our travels in China. Having a contact who knows the right station, how to ask the right questions, and ensuring that our interests are being followed was a priceless gift. We are forever grateful for their hospitality.
We finished our ticket buying just in time to shower and head out to the main event: A 30 person dinner. Sharleen was very anxious about this dinner as her mom had gone behind her back to organize the get-together, but wasn’t there to facilitate conversations. However, it went great. Everyone was warm and friendly. There were no awkward moments. Even Sharleen’s thank you speech was well received.
Family get-togethers go as well as people want them to go. With everyone in a good and joyful mindset, our get together went great!
Guifeng Mountain Forest Park
Part of visiting family is paying respect to ancestors and family members who have passed on. This tradition in Cantonese is called Bi-San. In the dense humid air we walked to the temple within the Guifeng Mountain Forest Park. A beautiful gold pavilion that was being renovated attracted everyone’s eye before going into the temple’s interior. Upon entering the main door, we were greeted by a giant tree full of red ribbons. It was explained that you make wishes or resolutions and throw the ribbon into the tree (or hang it), for the wish to come true.
There are a few parts to most Bi-San ceremonies. Incense are lit and each member of the family holds three incense, bows three times, then puts the incense into a holder. The smoke from the burning incense carries your thoughts and well wishes up to the spirit realm for your ancestors. Next, food and drink offerings are made. Usually a goose or a duck, with some fruit. The rice wine is poured at the base of the alter. Then paper money is burned. The smoke brings wealth in o the next realm so the ancestor has your thoughts, food, drinks, and money in the afterlife. “So what if you were bad? Do you still go up?” Alyssa asked. The levity broke the somber mood and I chuckled. “I don’t know for sure, but I think everyone goes to the spirit realm, and if you were bad, there is no one to Bi-San and you don’t get anything in the next realm.”
|Preparing the incense|
|Food, drink, and money offerings|
|Each red ribbon in this temple represents someone’s wish or hope.|
|Incense bring the prayers up to the spirit realm|
Modern generations do it less and less, but showing face and doing the ritual is a great way to connect generational values.