An evening with our Chongqing family

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September 30th 2011
Published: September 30th 2011
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It's raining and we are at various stages of fighting colds, hoping we will all be healthy for the wedding on Sunday. Still, the great experiences continue.

Last night we were invited to Lynn's parents' home for dinner and to rehearse one part of the wedding ceremony. Kathy and I had enjoyed their hospitality before when Jacob was staying with them last summer in their apartment on the third floor of a 32-story high rise in a the northern part of the city (see “Arrival in Chongqing” post from last year's trip). They are wonderfully friendly, open people, and they clearly love our son.

On the wall in the apartment entryway we saw our photo, taken with them when we were there last summer, along with pictures of Lynn and her parents over the years and several of Jacob. When I told Lynn that it was nice to see our picture up there, she said “Of course. You are part of the family. That's where my Mom puts the family photos.” I was incredibly touched by this.

We had tea and tea snacks, of course, and then it was time for the first cooking demonstration from Lynn's Mom. The first thing she showed us was how to make steamed rice and pork spareribs, putting a mixture of uncooked, but soaked rice, spareribs, and seasoning on top of lettuce leaves in bamboo steamers. They are then place over boiling water for 45 min or so. The result is deliciously flavored rice and incredibly tender ribs. This is much like a dish we get, wrapped in banana leaves, at Dim Sum restaurants back home.

Next lesson was the tortilla-like wraps. First she showed us how the dough is shaped and placed to rest, not rise, in a bowl covered with a wet towel. The dough is just flour and water, nothing else. Then, later, we watched her roll it out into circles. These are cooked in pairs, with a little oil brushed between to keep them from sticking to each other on a dry, unoiled, frying pan. The result is a strong, and tasty, wrap.

Then it was time to eat. Jacob, Lynn, and her parents had some discussion about the proper Confucian etiquette, chairs were rearranged, and we we told where to sit. Kathy and I and Karen and Jim were in one corner, and our hosts and the young people in the other. After toasts with Chinese wine over the incredibly bountiful repast, we passed around the amazing variety of dishes:

- sticky-rice steamed short pork ribs
- Peking sauce pork strips with tortillas
- stir fried shrimp, dragon fruit, carrots, celery, corn
- greens with garlic and sesame
- pears in blueberry sauce
- green salad
- hand-pulled chicken

Jacob, Laurel, and Lynn's Dad were filling the tortillas with vegetables and Peking sauce fried pork, which was delicious. These were incredibly good, and as soon as I finished one, someone handed me a new one. So I finally figured out not to finish one completely so I could take a break and enjoy the other food.

Then, after all this, out came the sticky rice and pork ribs, incredibly good. Lynn's Dad told us that if only their table were larger, there would be more food. We thought this was a joke, but later we found out there were at least two more dishes that weren't even served. There was probably three times as much food on the table as we could eat. And, the most amazing thing of all was that Lynn's Mom produced all of this on her own.

Afterwards, we gave Lynn's parents our gift of the limited edition Pendelton blanket honoring the 2001 Northwest tribal canoe journey and showed them slides of the landing at Swinomish this July. Karen and Jim gave them a book of photos of the San Juan Islands. This was a special edition with “Jacob's house” marked on the map where our Three Meadows cabin is and an inscription translated into Chinese for them by the Spring Street School art teacher who is Chinese. Lynn and her family really enjoyed looking at the beautiful photos of large trees, beautiful beaches, whales, and other winders of the San Juans. We hope that they will be able to visit us some day and see all these Pacific Northwest places first hand.

Finally, it was time to rehearse "Tian Mi Mi", the popular Chinese song that Lynn and Jacob (on ukulele) and her Dad and me (on guitar) will be playing during the ceremony on Sunday. It's not too difficult, only two chords, but it will nonetheless take a little work for us to be able to do it together. I think we made very good progress in this first (and likely only) rehearsal. However we end up sounding, I am sure we will have fun, though.

The coolest thing about this is that the beat-up instrument that I get to play turns out to be the first brand of guitar that was available in China after the end of the Cultural revolution. Lynn's Dad bought this in 1980, when he was in his mid-20s.

It is so amazing to realize that this family that we now have such a strong connection with has a history of experiences so different from ours that it is really impossible to even imagine what their lives were like growing up. Despite these differences, and despite the fact that we do not even have a common language we can communicate in, our children have joined their lives together, and through this, have joined us. It turns out, of course, that we do share the most important values of family and love.



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