Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Doing it for the kids

The cousins came over. Not the direct cousins, but the cousins of the same generation yet a few branches over, perhaps 3rd or 4th cousins in the western terms. It's a rowdy visit. All three, three men, seem quite astonishingly self-confident and haughty in their postures. I can only talk about their postures because they so speak quickly in dialect with references and irony that I follow little of what they're going on about. They come over to the home one by one, number 1 comes in a sits as if he owns the place, smokes and offers me a cigarette, which I refuse. He's the largest of the three and has a gravelly voice. Number 2 strides in afterwards and loudly jokes before sitting, offering me a cigarette, which I refuse. As they are drinkers and the place they're actually meant to be visiting next door has no drinkers at all, our family begin lunch preparations. My father and I and are the most regular drinkers within the 100m radius of the home. Number 3 comes in quietly and offers me a cigarette, which I refuse. He has a few discreet words with my father-in-law, and then the food comes in and the St Remy XO brandy, which I'd brought in Auckland duty free, is poured.

It doesn't take long for it to become apparent that number 3 can't hold his liquor. After the first glass he gets quite emotional especially about the help my father-in-law gave to him in Guangzhou in tough times. He was starving at a point was given food. Hearing about my father-in-law's Guangzhou time is jarring because I only got to know him once he was already in the village, where he was clearly in his element. He worked in construction in Guangzhou for a time and later failed as a paint shop owner in central Qingyuan before returning back to the countryside with debts. But he is a genuinely kind man and I'll reiterate what I have hopefully said many times: I'm very lucky to have such an open-hearted, accepting person as my father-in-law. Number 3 can't keep his voice, arms or tone down. My father-in-law has to almost bring his arms down physically and asks him repeatedly to keep these things in the past. When another cousin from another branch comes in, number 3 still in heightened emotion dresses him down for his lack of support for his father and family (being "unfilial"). This is quite an animated but not atypical new year scene in China. Through all this drama there is a mini-scene that I'd like to focus on which is almost a distraction from this scene of drunken sentimentality.

As number 3 gets into his stride of gratitude, the child of number 2 charge into the room, grab his father's bowl from in front of him and run away. He's tailed by his cousin, the son of number 1. I was shocked by this brazen food robbery, but number 2 puffs his cigarette and his son brings back the bowl. The two children notice me and then get into a pushing match toward me to say something to me. What they would like the other to say is lost on me and likely lost on them, too. I entertain them trying to get them to tell me their names by first teaching them how to say "My name is.." but they run away. I ignore them but later get up to talk to them. One runs into the bathroom to hide so I hold the door shut. He eventually tries to get out but has to say "My name is..." to get out. I'm such an evil teacher. Both run away after that but it is just another refraction of a social trend in China that we see in our classes in Auckland, namely, undisciplined, unfocussed youth.

They're everywhere. There was probably an evolution where the Cultural Revolution did a bit of a moral reset, the One Child policy warped all the attention to a single child who grew up in unprecedented wealth and then that overindulged child was then expected to produce and raise a child, if not two. Any of these "links" in the procreative chain could give birth to a rather uncontrollable child. I went to the number 2 and said that his son was quite bright, and he shook his head and said he was "lazy".

Another tale was an anecdote shared during the "visiting of relatives" yesterday. A young auntie of ours told us how a similar situation brewed. Third Uncle's son had gotten married and had recently had a child. But the son had the best of the good life as an only son and had always had his parents do everything for him. After the child was born, both he and his wife did very little to do any of the hard work care of the child, preferring to play computer games till late, not waking in the morning and getting lunch from KFC. They were there to play with children of course.

These stories travel far over new year as all the people return to home town and each round of "visiting relatives" is a whirlpool of gossip. Children are China's future. It's going to be an interesting ride.

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