Saturday, 9 February 2013
For all us ethnic Chinese who still somewhat stick to the old ways, today marks the eve of the lunar new year. On this day, it's expected of all family members to gather for a reunion dinner; the size and degree of gathering varies from one's immediate family to events that require the bookings of banquet halls, assuming one has a large enough extended family living locally and the money to burn. Members who are unable to be physically present, for example, due to not being in the country, are expected to at least write or call back to be present in spirit if not body.
Amongst the various subjects my grandmother would pontificate to me (amongst pig farming and the fact that she had to starch my grandfather's pants to the point they could stand up on their own) were the reunion dinners that she used to have when my mother, aunts and uncles were still children. It was, to hear her describe it, quite an event at my great-grandfathers' (my maternal grandfather's father); the rule of thumb was that everyone was to convene at the home of the eldest surviving patriarch of the line, who happened to be my great-grandfather.
This meant that my grandfather, granduncles, as well as their families, all squeezed in and around the confines of the one-storey house; it was large compared to the rest of the village's buildings (remember that my grandfather's family was considered well-to-do), but still limited by today's standards. To hear my grandmother tell it, the whole thing was a bit of an event, with people having to bring in extra furniture to seat the sheer number of people in the small gravel courtyard, and food because the kitchen at my great-grandfather's place wasn't going to be cooking enough for somewhere in the region of twenty to thirty people. Ah, I'll remember my grandmother's...I supposed amused frustration would be the best way to put it, as she reminisced over having to butcher and roast a suckling pig, and how my great-grandmother would yell at her for not getting it done just right.
Hearing these tales of the past, it's very stark how atomised people have become over the course of one or two generations. It bears thinking, doesn't it?