Chapter 6 – Meeting the Family
Next day we met Winnie’s parents at our hotel. This time, I did have my suit and tie on for our first introduction. We piled into a taxi with our luggage and headed out to where most of Winnie’s family lived, the small (by Chinese standards) town of Luchuen.
The taxi let us off at the Luchuen Middle school, a large walled compound with guards siting at the main gate. Winnie’s sister was a school teacher (teaching English) and actually lived in an apartment inside the school compound, an arrangement I later discovered is a fairly common arrangement in China. We met her sister and sister’s family and one uncle in the apartment. After a few minutes of chat we all walked across the street to a restaurant for lunch, where we met some more of Winnie’s extended family.
We had a wonderful lunch of various things I could not identify, then walked back to Winnie’s sister’s house. This time, the school was in recess, and all the children were out in the school grounds where we had to cross to get to the apartments.
In China, it’s not considered rude to stare – it’s only rude to point. Halfway across the school grounds all the children looked over at us, stopped playing, and stared. Then they all rushed over and formed a “gauntlet” of children with wondering looks, all openly staring at me (but not pointing). A few of the braver ones tried out their English with a “hello Mister” and waved. I waved back. Winnie tried to hide, she was so embarrassed! Winnie’s sister and parents just smiled and we kept on walking.
It seemed pretty clear that I was the first “westerner” any of these children had every seen up close and in person. To put this wondrous event ( a westerner inside the grounds of Luchuen middle school) in proper perspective; This was also the day China launched their first citizen into space on a Chinese-built spacecraft.
We spent the afternoon sitting in the home of Winnie’s sister’s apartment, with her dad and I sitting watching the space launch news. Every few minutes her dad would start cheering and give me a “thumbs up” pointing to the TV showing China’s first astronaut. Also sometime during this afternoon, I gave Winnie’s parents a gold and red paper envelop with my “gift” which we call a dowry.
Early evening we walked down to the hotel we would be staying at (we were still newlyweds) which I discovered later was the best hotel in town. I also quickly discovered that none of the people in this town were used to seeing westerners. Almost everyone we passed stared at me. Not hostile and no pointing, everyone was extremely friendly. They just stared.
We spent the next morning exploring Luchuen and visited a nice park nearby. Then, Thursday evening it was time for our family wedding reception dinner.
I had no real idea of our schedule and so could not plan properly. We had left most of our luggage over at Winnie’s sister’s apartment including my suit bag. So, once again, I was wearing my travel jeans (at least by now they had been washed and pressed compliments of Winnie’s sister), sneakers and polo shirt, when we headed for the restaurant to meet my in-laws.
Our wedding reception dinner must have included about 100 people. The large banquet room was packed with family members all sitting around large round tables. We sat with Winnie’s immediate family at a table at one end of the room. We ate, then wandered around meeting people. It was a very happy crowd, lots of smiles, talk and quiet laughter. A few people could speak limited English and were able to talk with me. I did remember to bring my camera, so we took family pictures with one of the waitresses using my camera.
After dinner we visited several of Winnie’s Aunts/Uncles and cousins at their homes. Everyone gave us a warm reception and I felt very welcomed into her family. At one house, there was a ping pong Table in their first floor “garage.” One of Winnie’s aunts offered me a ping pong paddle and I ended up playing several people, finishing with a little kid who could slice the ball like no one I’d ever seen before.
Many weeks later, Winnie told me her family was very impressed with how well I played Ping Pong “for a westerner.”
The rest of our trip involved having a Honeymoon tour of China. Winnie’s parents spent two days with us as our guests at a resort in Behai, on the beach of the South China Sea, then they returned home. We headed up to Guilin and the Li Jiang River, that caught a train to Shanghai. We spent several days exploring Shanghai and Winnie and I met a long-time pen pal friend of mine. From here Winnie and I parted. I flew from Shanghai directly back to Hong Kong for my flight home and Winnie flew back to Nanning.
The next step would be for me to file for her visa so she could join me in the US.
I though, naively, that getting her visa would only take a few months. It turned out to be a nearly two year nightmare. But that is another story of another challenge.