My favorite Yanji memory in February was hiking trips to 帽儿山 (Hat Mountain) with my grandpa. Sometimes we would take the long and easy routes, and sometimes we would trek up the steeper sides through the snow. Either way, each visit to the mountain was peaceful and fulfilling with conversations about my toddler days and reviewing daily Chinese customs. My grandpa naturally patient, so sometimes I would ask him questions just to hear his own thoughts and let him put a smile on my face.
I’ve gone back to Yanji before to visit family, but this time around I had a new understanding of my hometown. For the first time, I returned to this city by myself and lived with my grandparents (姥姥 and 姥爷) like I did sixteen years ago. My 姥姥 told me endless stories that I can now understand as an adult, which made me value my family and family friends more than before. Chinese put family above all else, and in my case I would agree to this tradition. No matter where I go or how successful I am, my family will worry the most about my safety and make sure I am living well.
Yanji is extremely small compared to Beijing but it has everything you need to live a comfortable life. You can probably drive from the east to west in 30 minutes and walk to the closest supermarket within 10 minutes from any apartment complex. It’s surprising that we have an airport, but I’m not complaining! In my post on Yanji food, there’s a photo of the east supermarket, where you are promised to find fresh vegetables and meat picked and butchered every morning.
Back then, I could read the local newspaper and recognized all the characters on shop signs. Let’s see if my Chinese classes will let me reach my writing ability of when I was three…
I also visited my paternal grandparents (爷爷奶奶) in 安图 (Antu) for a day, but it was so cold and windy that the only reason to go outside was to use the outhouse. My 爷爷 said I used to go outside just to see the fields, as if they would magically move or grow corn on their own. I didn’t feel the need to freeze my face off just to see an open field, but I did visit the chickens, who hatched some eggs just in time for our dumplings.
Those twelve days in Yanji, I didn’t think much of how I spent them, but looking back now that life was quite luxurious. A typical day would start at 6:30am (老人 like to wake up super early), have breakfast, free time, prepare for lunch, eat lunch, free time, prepare for dinner, eat dinner, watch some TV, and sleep at 9:30pm. The spaces for free time consisted of either hiking, shopping, walking around, or simply sitting around. I had time to read one of my favorite books, Pride and Prejudice, and my cousin taught me a middle school pastime of folding little stars. With no internet, I sometimes didn’t know what to do with myself and felt behind in preparing for the semester ahead of me. I had to remind myself that I was on vacation and that I’ll worry about everything once it’s time.
On one of our hikes, my 姥爷 told me how important it is to find a hobby I am passionate for. When he was young, he didn’t know what to do and settled for what he could find. He had an interest in singing and writing songs, but only after retirement has he started to take it seriously. Nowadays, he looks over his music sheets for the 二胡 (string-fiddle) everyday and makes cameos for radio shows and local television shows. He also joined the local orchestra which performs two or three times a year and guest sings along with his sister. These are great ways to enjoy retirement but had he focused more on his singing, who knows where he would be now! I went to one of his rehearsals, which motivated me to work even harder to improve my dancing:
Upon leaving Yanji for my semester Beijing, I felt lucky to have lived in places outside of Yanji. This city would be suitable if I were ready for a static life of having a job and raising kids, but there is limited room for growth and opportunity, just like any small town. I lived like a queen having eight hours of sleep every night and revisiting childhood memories, but I can’t do that forever if I want to make new memories here in China. And so began my adventure at Tsinghua, which I will finally (finally!!) start posting about.