Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Calling China

Last night I finally had some time to call my relatives back in China to wish them a happy new year. I wish I could have called them a week ago, which was Chinese New Year, but I spent most of last week in bed sick and could barely suck in a breath without coughing up my lungs.

I called my maternal grandparents in Lanzhou, my aunt and cousin in Shanghai, one of my uncles in Lanzhou again and then my father's side of the family. Unlike in years past, during which I spent most of the time asking about the same boring things over and over again, namely the weather and their health, I actually carried on meaningful and interesting conversations with them last night. I care much more about them now because they are no longer just distant voices on the other end of the phone line, nor lifeless figures in faded photographs. During my China visit last summer, I lived in their houses, proposed toasts to them at banquets, visited scenic spots with them, listened to their favorite stories from my childhood, and discovered so much family history that I hadn't been aware of before. Just as important, they were able to get a better understanding of our life in the States by looking through the pictures I brought on my compactflash cards and listening to the stories, some funny, some sad, that I told. At times I felt like an ambassador for my family on a cultural exchange trip.

After my visit, I feel like I have a much stronger bond to them. I know how they live and understand the problems they face in this brave new world that their country has morphed into since our departure to America. Having spent the last 14 years with only my parents and sister, I was thrilled to be surrounded by all these relatives who loved me now just as much as they did then. For the first time in a long time, I felt really at home.

By the time I finished all these calls, I had talked for almost 100 minutes. That unlimited nights and weekends cell plan and ultra cheap phone card really came in handy!