Day the Fiftieth – 6 October

Today’s post is has little to do with work, so if you’re primarily here to read about my museum-based high-jinks, feel free to depart.

I am (was – it’s now two days later) at my grandparents’, in a small (on a Chinese scale, about three million people living downtown) city on the coast of China. The flat looks exactly the same as it did when I was here last time, and the time before that. And the time before that. The only thing that is different is the measure of dust, and the amount of THINGS lying around. In fact, it mostly looks the same as it did when I first was here in 1996. One of the wall-calendars is from 1998. These are my elder set of grandparents. In a way, I am incredibly fortunate to have four living grandparents, and having met two great-grandparents. The bed-place I’m currently occupying used to be that of my great-grandmother.

It has been nearly five years since I last saw this set of grandparents. The other pair is almost 10 years younger, accordingly sprightlier, and astoundingly tech-savvy, so we skype. But these two have been around since the 1920s, no small feat. I clearly have some stonking DNA to work with, and I better make use of that. Visual ageing is one thing, but those who know me personally know that I’m all of five years old at heart, so maybe I should focus on that rather than the fine lines I seem to be developing. However, my numerical age puts me as the eldest cousin on both sides of my family tree, and in the Chinese spirit of filial piety, I should be the first port of call when any grandparent needs an errand running. Only I’m six thousand miles away on an average day. This means that these duties befall the younger cousins on both sides. I am a good ten years older than both of the boys, and also the only cousin in the tree with my own income, but when when I come to this flat, I am not so sure money is good for anything here. Even my presence feels a bit like an intrusion: I don’t know where things are, I don’t know the local dialect (famous for being used as a code language during the Korean war), and I don’t even know how all aspects of this old flat works.

Let’s put it this way: my little brother thinks that this place is disgusting, and due to his allergies, when my other three nuclear family members come to visit, Mum and brother now book into a nearby hotel. I don’t think it’s disgusting per se, but I would like my grandparents to have a better environment. I don’t want them to flush the toilet from a pail. But the thing is, they are not poor. All of my grandparents were teachers, who, see this article for further discussion, are held in very high esteem in China. The clutter in both grandparents’ homes come from former students. They are presents, not hoarded goods. There is possibly a little goldmine in here, but the grandparents don’t need all that stuff. They are used to the fairly spartan life, and seemingly by choice, not necessity. Something that I am pleased to see, and that they do need, is a shiny new sturdy-looking, retractable walking-stick resting in the doorway. This is what they really need. And probably some person who really cares to look after them. As my uncle and his family live in Japan, my aunt’s family shoulders that responsibility. But frankly, even if I could provide the money to renovate and refurbish this house, it probably wouldn’t feel like home to them if it was any different, so what good would that do?

The worst thing is probably all the gaps, and age might be the least of them. My grandfather likes to tell stories, and I tend to encourage him to do so. Because, if he wasn’t telling me a story, I’m not sure what conversational topic would be a good one for us to share. And being a conversational partner may, sadly, be the only thing I am good for when I visit. Or at least when said visit is a whistle-stop so quick I got whiplash.

Either way, quote me on wanting to use my applied-for time here in China to see my grandparents more often. This is not me cutting down on work, but there is more to life than graft only, innit?

To not end on too melodramatic a note:

Seafood galore. Coastal city living up to its reputation!

Snapshot out of the coach window on my way back. This is (I’m pretty sure, neither guide nor sign was present) the Ou river, from whence my name was derived by my grandfather.


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