When I was young, family gatherings were a rare thing. Every couple of years, my parents and I would travels the thousands of miles back to Chengdu and visit my dear grandparents and extended family of uncles, aunts and cousins. Each time we met, there were changes to take in; babies I had never met , kids and teenagers I’d never watched grow, divorces, remarriages, grey hairs and facial lines. It was a revolving cast, but the stage remained the same, set around the kitchen table in my grandparents house. If you’ve seen the BBC Exploring China documentary that was filmed in their home, you’d have an idea of what one of these gatherings are like.
Having grown up far removed from the rest of my family and feeling culturally alienated as a kid, I thought the endless dishes and baijiu toasts were remarkably tedious and couldn’t wait to slink away after scarfing down my food. Eventually with age came sense and curiosity, and I became more aware of the fleeting nature of these familial feasts as they are, anchored around my aging grandparents. I now linger at the table, reaching for seconds and thirds, listening intently to family tales being passed around. The feelings of communion and cheer when we all gather around are intricately tied to what’s on the table, usually several people have chipped in a side dish or two, there has been a discussion for days over the menu, and the kitchen has been abuzz since dawn with activity. The dishes absorb the energy and love, you taste it all. Nothing embodies this ritual more than the Chinese New Year reunion.
This year, only the second time in my life the whole family has celebrated CNY together in one place, the feasts were dotted with several highlights. A family friend and noted gourmand, hearing I was in town, prepared a batch of his homemade beef jerky for me, insisting on sharing his top secret recipe developed over countless hours. An uncle, knowing I loved his version of a spicy shredded rabbit, celtuce and vermicelli salad, rolled up his sleeves in the kitchen, and even gave me two extra smoked rabbits to take home. I was joined in Chengdu by my dear friend Crystyl from Shanghai, who added an extra dynamism to our gatherings, I always love seeing my hometown and family through new eyes.
This was also the year that they started work on the inevitable, tearing down the tattered, hundred year old courtyard behind my grandparents’ apartment. I’ve often posted photos of the courtyard with its memorable clay roof and leafy pomelo tree weighed down by its fruit. It is probably the most deeply etched sight in my memory, and hard to believe that there may be no remnants of it at all the next time I come. But perhaps the most best part of this trip was my grandfather being honored for fighting against the Japanese in WWII, sixty years after being incarcerated for his involvement with the KMT and given no recognition for his contributions. Recently, a group of young civilians in their 20s and 30s in Sichuan spearheaded efforts to locate these veterans and present them with small tokens of appreciation. I’m thankful they found my grandfather, many others have long passed in obscurity.
The year of the ram is looking pretty exciting. After more than a year of work and months of successful pop ups, Baoism is finally about to open its first location in Xintiandi in a couple short months, and I can’t wait to share more details with all of you soon! For more updates you can follow our IG or Wechat @baoismchina and check out our website www.baoism.com.cn
Happy New Year to you and yours !