It's my third home, the place of my comfort, where I can sleep and wake without need or want. A place when I'm so secure I can drink beyond my limits. A place where I can walk among the paddy fields. I can talk snakes with the elders as well as spot half-squashed snakes on the roadside. It's a place of geese and chickens. Of tables and tables spilling over everywhere on festive occasions. Of uncles and aunties, all of which I forget to call correctly. Of tea and wine. Of seeing the young'uns grow and grow.
Qingyuan represents a lot to me. One day, if I were to retire in China, it'd probably be here in a school living in a small place I could walk from and to. It's simple and complicated, it's sweet and it's bitter. It has all the flavours, sights and smells. It represents bridges: I bridged the relationship with my wife's family. But they moreso bridged the gap to me. I tried to pave the way with language even if my language is still a work in progress.
Where I paved too poorly, there was Second Grandmother. She is a direct neighbor but a distant relative two generations higher. She's had a roughish time of life but doesn't show it a bit. She can take the bitter. She's always smiley to me but has never figured out how to talk to me. She usually greets me in the exact same way as she would another, a rapid, high pitched, loud exuberant connected stream of words, usually a question, that I have no way of answering. Anything beside this I might have had a chance to deal with but she gets discouraged. Usually in her discouragement she speaks slower and I can understand a bit more but she's lost interest.
There are the ones who've made it across the paved road I've made through a greater effort and openness on their part. Those are definitely my parents-in-law, who've probably dealt with a fair but just because I'm a foreigner but who care for me dearly as I do them and will try tirelessly to communicate. My grandfather-in-law has more to overcome being partially deaf, but still has embraced me and tried to bridge the gap. Others are Aban-go, who is my age and puts the effort in to talk. He doesn't grade down his language, probably because he can't but his desire to communicate means I learned a lot from him (compared to the more helpful but distant, Hou-go, who usually resorts to Mandarin but can't understand my culture or personality nor support me really to understand his); Fourth Kaufu, who's always smiled and tried to communicate (I've blogged about him in the past); Third Uncle the Chef, who I've barely understood anything of in five years but still communicates from the heart.
This has been my final exam of exams for my Qingyuan dialect. Speaking, I still can't freely communicate. It's really disappointing, but my listening is surprisingly good. In all the "reunion" farewells I've followed quite detailed and sophisticated conversations in accented Qingyuan dialect. I can always fall back on good listening and a command of Mandarin in my daily life if I choose so I'm at least happy that I have the tools to deal receptively and actively in rural China. But Mandarin always feels a cop-out here.
Qingyuan, oh Qingyuan, this is my final sleep here for some time. May your charms and hearts remain.