Family, Friends, and Chinese New Year Across Three Countries (Part 1)

It was a screeching, metallic cacophony that awoke Manchit and I last night/this morning during our first sleep in Delhi, India. Perhaps there was some sort of Indian metal studio (that’s metal as in grinding two pieces of steel together, not the metal found when blasting Slayer, Mastadon, or Lamb of God) beyond our bedroom window, or maybe we were bearing audible witness to the clanging, brutal coupling of two Transformers locked in romantic machine embrace. Most likely the noise was due to some sort of trash removal business, but let’s not stay too focused on realistic possibilities.

In any case, the noise screams – WELCOME TO INDIA – to us. As do the smells of the open urinals to our noses, the burn of deliciously spicy curry to our throats, the sight of countless brilliantly white smiles in an endless dusty sea of a city…

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we? It’s been two weeks already with nary a word to mention about how we’ve been occupying our time.

Two weeks ago I took a 30 hour or so jump across the oceans and landed amidst the warm winds of Guangzhou for five days of the Chinese New Year with Manchit and her family. Two weeks also represents roughly the length of time it took a box of two bottles of booze and a couple pounds of chocolate to make it to Manchit’s parents after I checked it in at the airport in NYC (it only took about a call/email from Manny per day to accomplish this!) and also the approximate length of the entire Chinese New Year celebration.

Since I can speak essentially no Chinese, and most of Manchit’s family about the same amount of English, there weren’t really many opportunities to get to know them, unfortunately. A few “gan bei” (Cheers) calls here, a lot of “hao chi” (Delicious!) exclamations there, and that was pretty much it. We would speed over to one family member’s home, eat dinner, and almost immediately depart – the brevity of these meetings much appreciated since I could offer nothing to a conversation except some pantomimed expressions or a repetition of one of the random Chinese words I’ve memorized.

Hotpot with the family
GAN BEI !!!!!!!

It wasn’t until our last full day in Guangzhou that I felt a change, that perhaps I could someday be a part of the family and not just a stoic outsider. We joined Manchit’s paternal side of the family as they visited a temple housing memorials to numerous members of the family. Manchit’s father traced his fingers over scribbled numbers in a small, worn journal and led the way through a labyrinth of gilded plaques, each one denoting a departed family member or friend. The actual bodies or ashes could be on the other side of China, but here, in this temple in Guangzhou, the monks had blessed a particular plaque for a person or people, and we followed the maze to find Manchit’s grandparents staring back at us from a timeless black and white photograph.

A couple of tears escaped from Manchit’s father’s stony expression and a few silent sobs as he prayed to his parents and remembered their life. We took turns facing the plaque, and when my time had come I silently thanked them for raising their son who had brought to life the woman I love. From the beaches of Morocco to the streets of Guangzhou, from great-grandparents of days long past, to children yet born, the strange and wonderful connections we make can’t possibly be predicted. And who would want to prematurely know the ending of their story anyway?

(Part 2 here)

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