Keeping it in the family, Chinese style

16:07, October 20, 2010      

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My two sets of "parents" were about to meet for the first time.

So, too, were my American wife and Chinese younger brother, who at 27 is a month my junior and became my younger brother about two years ago.

My American parents had flown from the US state of Michigan to Hunan's provincial capital, Changsha, my Chinese family's hometown.

It was in 2008 that I met my gandie (the closest Western equivalent is "godfather"), who heads the provincial information bureau's news center. We'd spent nearly two weeks traveling more than 3,000 km through Hunan and Hubei provinces on a bus, retracing the steps of the ancient polymath Shennong.

Along the way, the man I used to refer to as "Mr Zhang" became my gandie and I his gan'erzi (godson) at a ceremony at which we toasted and gave speeches detailing our deep, shared affections. He presented me with the wristwatch he'd worn for 10 years.

Now, my Chinese and American families were about to spend the National Day Golden Week as one - East meets West, Zhangs meet Nilssons.

It was my parents' fifth time in China, and Dad has studied enough Chinese for basic communication. But they had previously only interacted with local people on the banquet level.

Frankly, I had wondered about how my families would mingle, as they are as antipodean culturally and linguistically as they are geographically. But the instant I saw the Zhangs at the airport, clutching a bouquet of roses for my mother, all worries about cultural differences vanished.

I realized my parents have a very "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" mentality.

And my Chinese family has a very, "When non-Romans are in Rome, accept what the non-Romans do" attitude.

We spent the next six days bouncing around Changsha, viewing Mao Zedong's birth home in Shaoshan and marveling at the ancient geological forces sired at Zhangjiajie. The cultural, historical and natural facets of the Hunan experience were truly amazing. But we all agree, what really made that Golden Week shine were the laughs, the fun, the chats we all shared as one family.

We invented the "ban (half) cheers", which Gandie explains as something between "he yi kou (drink one sip)" and "ganbei (empty the glass)".

I saw my American father tipsy for the first time in my life. And then for the second, the third, the fourth - we eventually lost track.

When Gandie arranged for us to dine with four of his six brothers who lived in town, one of them toasted my father with a "telephone" (tapping the bottom of the glass on the table to toast someone across from you).

"Da dianhua? (telephone call?)" my father confirmed.

He put his hand to his ear as if it were a receiver and said: "Wei (hello?) Ni hao ma (How are you?)"

Ganshushu (god uncle) mimicked his pantomime and responded: "Wo hen hao. Ni ne? (I'm good. And you?)"

Dad: "Hao. Gan bei! (Good. Bottoms up!)"

Ganshushu: "Ganbei!"

Dad: "Zaijian. (Goodbye)."

We had many grand banquets with Gandie's closest friends, colleagues and siblings. But perhaps the best meal of all - certainly the tastiest - was at their home, where we had what (American) Mom and Dad described as akin to a Thanksgiving dinner.

And thankful we are, indeed.

Before arriving in Hunan, my family had been appreciative for the chance to see its sights and experience its culture. And now, they're grateful that when they return, it will be to see family.

Source: China Daily(By Erik Nilsson)


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