Chinese New Year strikes a cord within me, bringing echoes of smells, sights and sounds tumbling through my memory.
The smell of dumplings, bowls of steaming rice. Stains spilt on immaculate white tablecloths as customers wash restaurant cups and bowls in tea. Fireworks cracking and popping day and night sans of any notion of safety.
Tiny, crammed shops with black, thick wood stairs leading to the sleeping quarters above. Innumerable san pans, bobbing on the water, with children tethered aboard by an expanse of rope and washing blowing on a line across the stern. Double bunk beds, three high, filling tiny honeycombed apartments.
Markets alive with local produce, spread on sheets on the floor, accompanied by squatting women, who smile, scales in hand. Snakes for sale, squirming in dark wood barrels. Fish leaping from multiple enamel bowls to flounder on concrete floors. Chickens in small wood cages, as women, cleaver in hand, man their nearby slaughter block. Flies peppering the hanging meat stalls. Older women buying chicken feet for the collagen, and over all the stench of dried fish and overwrought drains.
Shrill, young voices, dressed in new year’s outfits, intoning the proverbial greetings in hopes of a fat red envelope from their elders. Round restaurant tables with their revolving centres. Strong, harsh, rice wine and everywhere food, dish after dish, for that is the way Chinese celebrate all things.
My mind fills with faces, long past. Those I cared for, and who cared for me. The children I taught, serious and studious, knowing the future of their families depended on their efforts. The “old folks” … not old by our standards. Walkers and scooters are unknown, where scarcely a stick is seen. They converge in parks and gardens, before the heat begins, moving to the timeless rhythms of Tai Chi or, as evening brings release, waltzing dizzy circles through outside pavilions. Toughened from lives of labour stairs are nothing to them.
Here my life is comfy and secure, yet sometimes I miss the intensity and joy of that far off other home.