Ever since I moved out of my parent’s house 2 years ago, I’ve begun to enjoy weekend visits back to their house.
Whenever I peer through the thinly veiled glass door, I can see my mum emerging from the kitchen. Both her and my dad are always making traditional Chinese food like rou bao (pork buns), dumplings, man tou (plain buns) and tian bing (Chinese pancakes). The kitchen always has a warm glow, despite it being winter here in New Zealand.
Going over to my parent’s house reminds me of the family gatherings we used to have when I lived in China.
Even though I left my hometown when I was 4 and visited sporadically every few years, I can still remember clearly the large gatherings we’d have at various family members’ houses.
My Uncle’s house was a popular gathering spot. His house had a blue wooden door with the edges falling apart. It was the only house on the street with a blue door, so you’d never get lost trying to find it as an eight year old. I remember the round table in the dim living room where all the adults gathered together to play mahjong, their voices louder than the other, falling and then rising in crescendos.
I remember playing alongside my cousin on the street in front of the blue door, and when it grew dark, we’d come inside and play in the narrow space between the dining table and the toilet. I look back in admiration at myself for using that toilet. It was one of those squat toilets with a hole on the ground. Back then I didn’t mind it, as those were the only toilets I knew, but now, I shiver when I think about using those toilets. I’m afraid I’ll accidentally fall through the hole.
There were lots of small shops on that street. Everything was made of stone or concrete. And my sister and I would hop on our Agong’s bike as he rode us along the street looking for sweets.
Getting to people’s houses was interesting. I remember falling asleep in one of those rickety wagons while we were travelling to go to another family member’s house. Because I was sleeping so soundly in my mum’s lap with my foot sticking out of the wagon, when I woke up, my right shoe had fallen off on the side of the road.
It’s so funny how clear some of these memories are. It almost feels like a whole other lifetime just because of how different my life here in New Zealand is, compared to back then.
Now, most of my family members live in New Zealand. The last time my Uncle went back to visit his old house, he said it was unrecognisable. The blue door is gone, so are the shops, and the old streets. Everything is gone, replaced by newer, fancy buildings. I feel a tinge of sadness that I’ll never be able to go back there and recreate those memories, laugh or play on those streets. But the conciliation is that most of my family members now live in New Zealand, just a few blocks from one another.
We still hold gatherings, and have dinners to celebrate Chinese festivals. We are together, just in a different country and time.