The next day I went to Da Yang’s place. He had invited me at the last minute. It wasn’t really an invitation. He just informed me that I would be going to Er Yang’s on the 9th and his on the 10th. I had instructions on how to get to his house, which was a simple ride on the main bus that headed into People’s Square. He met me at the bus stop and escorted me to his apartment. Let me tell you, that is the nicest pre-open door policy house I have ever seen.
I thought Er Yang’s place was good because it had moldings on the walls and fake wooden floors, but it was nothing compared to Da Yang’s abode. It was every bit as good as my apartment albeit smaller. The floors were wide planks of dark wood, the kitchen was large enough to hold a table and even had a washing machine, his room had a TV of considerable girth, generous leather furniture and a traditional bed, the son’s room was big enough to house a bed, desk and numerous decorated bookshelves.
I was ushered inside by a friendly wife. I was very surprised to see her. Er Yang talked pretty frequently about his family, but Da Yang never talked about his wife. I had seriously thought she might be dead until he made some grumpy comment about her tyrannical ways. She was a very gracious woman, who welcomed me into her house with the utmost politeness. Unlike Er Yang’s spouse she bore me no ill will, but there were also no signs of my presence in their domicile. I was wearing the same outfit I had worn the day before. I only had one set of best clothes. Later on I would realize that I actually had zero sets of best clothes, as one is supposed to buy new things for new years and my outfit, however nice, was old.
Da Yang’s son was also home. He bore striking resemblance to Da Yang on first glance. He had the same prominent broad cheekbones and wide lensed wire rimmed glasses. On closer inspection that is where the resemblance ended. His skin was paler, his nose narrower and his eyes larger. Way back when I first met the Yangs, Da Yang had entertained the notion of setting me up with his son, but decided that if things didn’t work out well this would be a point of embarrassment all around. I think their decision was very wise, far wiser than Lei Ping shifu, whom I was still mad at.
It never would have worked out. Da Yang’s son seemed to be impossibly dull. He said he used to play basketball, because he was tall, but aside from that had no hobbies. His job was some sort of accounting position with the government. I talked to him politely for a bit and then turned back to Da Yang. I demanded to see photographs in my usual brazen manner. I’d seen pictures of Er Yang young, now I wanted to see Da Yang.
He hasn’t changed much over the years. I think he may not have been cross-eyed when he was young, but his features were pretty much the same. He had a huge album of him with his buddies in various famous locales.
“But where are your wife and son? It’s just you in all these pictures!” I demanded.
“Oh, they have their own photo albums, of course.” He answered matter of factly. “This is my book and they each have their own book. Here is my son’s and this is my wife’s.” He indicated a couple photo albums hiding in the open drawer below his.
He gave one of his little boy giggles pointing a callused finger at the larger album “My wife has the biggest, you know women.”
Sigh. Still sexist Da Yang, though he had given up the speeches about how I should do half of what a man would be expected to do. In fact, I had been addressed with a new speech the other day. One about how he liked girls better, because they worked twice as hard as boys. That made me feel proud.
His wife wasn’t a bad cook. The fare seemed much the same as yesterday, but a notch better. She made wonderful butternut squash cakes that I inhaled. They were a bit on the greasy side, but hot and sweet with a lovely texture to them.
Da Yang’s younger sister-in-law, nephew and parents-in-law lived next door. The nephew looked like a classic Japanese boy complete with dyed brown hair. His face was a long oval, nose high and narrow, eyes single lidded and long. I wouldn’t tell him that he looked Japanese though, talk about insulting!
The next day I was going to Yang Bo and Hong Li’s house in the countryside. I had decided I wanted to spend one last day in Shanghai, though I didn’t know why. As it turned out, it was a good thing. I brought tangerines to the gate guard as a present. I liked them. The guards were a man and his wife who lived in a one room hut positioned next to the gate of our apartment building. They had a beautiful daughter a bit younger than me who also lived there. I said “hi” to them every morning, so they liked me too. I gave them things I didn’t want, like clothes that didn’t fit well or empty plastic water jugs. When I came home at night I always peeked in the window of their house to see them all sitting around the small table or watching TV on the bed. I didn’t know much about gift giving in China, but I figured my neighbors had given me a New Year’s gift, so it was ok.
The neighbors had given us a pretty flowering plant which Da Yang critically inspected. He announced that it must have cost them ten kuai and I should return a gift valued at twenty kuai, something for the little boy would be nice. In the end I brought them chocolate coins, because the price was right and they reminded me of Chanukah. It didn’t really click then that gifts had to be reciprocated.
However this fact certainly came home when I handed the fruit to the gate guard.
“Aiyou, you shouldn’t have! We have nothing for you. Bu hao yisi.” He seemed very flustered and then his face lit, I could almost see the proverbial light bulb floating over his head. “I know! Have you eaten yet? Please, you must come to my house for a Spring Festival meal!”
He ushered me across the street to where his relatives lived. I recognized his wife in the kitchen, I had always wondered where they cooked. Through there I was led into a cramped room dominated by a large round table. The surface was covered with food and the remaining space was filled with various relatives. I recognized the gorgeous daughter, who introduced me to various cousins, uncles, aunts and friends.
The food was gross. All that I remember distinctly was the blue jellied yokes of the pickled eggs. Anything that has turned blue or green from fermentation is not something I want to put in my mouth. After an hour of polite conversation I escaped to my apartment to pack for the trip.
The apartment wasn’t looking so hot. I had thought we should clean it before Spring Festival, because it is unlucky to clean it during, but Pan and I were never home at the same time. I told her I would do half and she could do half, but then I caught another cold and wasn’t up for much. I’d let the water guy come in to refill our big jug, as always he had refused to remove his shoes and there was dust and mud tracked all over the house. The garbage cans were full. There were garments thoughtlessly strewn about and probably ripe groceries in the fridge. I don’t think I noticed any of it in my mad dash to pack clothes and get to the train station.