Visiting China, living like a Chinese, celebrating a wedding – it just had to involve some home purchasing aspect… :-p
The background, if you need it:
You may have heard about the challenge in finding a wife that the surplus of men in China faces.
You may have also heard of the phenomenon of “leftover women” who are considered too old (at around age 26), too independent, too highly educated, earning, and demanding, to find a husband.
But, there’s still more:
Finding a partner is still seen as more-than-essential in the clear life paths Chinese society seems to push everyone towards.
And an equally-as-clear part of that path, though one you may not have heard of if you haven’t delved deeper into social issues in China, is that it is the husband(-to-be) who is seen as having to provide most of his future family’s income (and hence, to have a high salary already), to go into the marriage having a car and a house/apartment.
Well, we didn’t and wouldn’t be able to get a place in China, but the in-laws did and the relatives with a good income are after the next apartment purchase.
Of course, we had to go and check it out – and I used the chance for some fun with photography. Which strangely turned out fitting for a theme of child’s play (which always looms in the background of discussions about marriage prospects and the gender imbalance in China)…
The beginnings of globalization in the Columbian Exchange (as in, when Columbus “discovered” the Americas and species of “Old” and “New World” started to spread and mingle) made global food offerings similar even sooner.
Yet, differences also remain, and nowhere are they more obvious than at local markets…
Such “wet markets” are particularly interesting in their regional differences, which speak to the extent to which different places are still shaped by their different ecological conditions, resulting in different offerings.
Unsurprisingly – in spite of all the talk of globalization and uniformity – on Hainan, this includes a much stronger presence of fish, shellfish and seafood.
Here, even the markets in Hunan, where carp and eel would typically be the major, if not the only, fish on offer, are already distinctly different, even though one may think of them all as Chinese markets – and of course, in Europe, things look different yet again.
China’s tropical island paradise, Hainan, may easily be one of the most interesting places for getting to know the craziness that is China.
Especially if you look at it with an awareness of Chinese history, it is quite paradoxical – and all the more interesting for it.
Hainan, after all, used to be one of the places where people who had fallen out of the imperial court’s favor were sent into exile; Sanya’s coast was considered the end of the world.
Su Shi (Su Dongpo), one of China’s great poets and polymaths, for example, ended up here.
He is memorialized in (the area of/beside, to be exact) the Wugong Ci, the Five Officials’ Temple/Memorial in Haikou.
There, among other things, he is shown as this exile who still did great things even in this backwater hellhole of a place, introducing the poor backwards islanders to agriculture and learning of a higher kind.
Su Shi (Su Dongpo)Statue in Sugong Temple
Islanders who otherwise collected tropical fruits, for example. Of which Hainan still offers a lot of kinds and for which, certainly with my wife and me, it is now one of the favorite holiday destinations … and by the example of which, in my opinion, one can learn quite a bit about this our world, i.e. do some at-home-making:
Where there are fruits, there are markets.
Even as malls and entire cities seem to be getting ever more the same no matter where you are, at least with all the same global brands advertising their wares, local markets still have some ‘color’ reflecting their location.
In China, and in a place such as Haikou, particularly so…
But then, even as Haikou is much less popular a beach vacation destination than Sanya on the opposite, Southern coast of Hainan, there are also beaches.
This being China, you may visit them very differently from how other people do if you go with Chinese and like a local… and with a “real” visit to the beach (in more Western terms) being different yet again. See more on that here.
Finally, of course, with the rising popularity, the usual Chinese housing boom has come.
In my travels, this was a chance both to see how locals proudly present their latest property purchase to relatives – and a chance to just have some fun with photography. See more here.
“My” China is not that of so many a visitor to or expat in that country.
I have not lived there for so long, took quite a long time before I finally went and stayed, but then it was neither the Beijing or Shanghai (or other large city) of most tourists and expats where I found myself.
It was Xiangtan, Hunan, where I lived and worked for three years (with only a month’s each interruption in Beijing and Shanghai and, more recently, another 6 months in Beijing).
With the woman I got to know and love there, and everywhere, I have made it even deeper into the country, to stays with her parents in her home town of Jiubujiang.
Where that is? Here:
It’s the China of old stories in rural settings, a China where a foreigner is still a strange sight – and also the China where many migrants working in coastal factories come from (or have returned to) and where development is also starting to both take its toll and bring improvements.
There used to be “only” rice fields here, now it’s meant to become a tourist village…
So, being there in China is another situation where I am “adventuring”. And making myself at home.
Admittedly, “adventuring” there is different from doing so when in Austria.
I grew up in Austria, after all.
Therefore, it takes somewhat more special things to be thrown out of a routine and into the spirit of “something else” that makes the ordinary less usual and more eye-catching.
In China, just living with the parents-in-law, going for walks, accompanying the mother-in-law on the local market, having fun going for a swim in the local reservoir-lake (which is increasingly being turned into a tourist attraction), is somewhat adventurous.
Swimming in the reservoir lake of Jiubujiang… This is right below a sign saying “The lake is large, the water is deep… No swimming!” ;)
But, it is also an at-home-making, trying to get to really know the place and live there, not just be the tourist who sees nothing but the most noteworthy and most strongly promoted attractions.
This is easier to realize you need, and to do, when you go somewhere other than “home”.
In fact, I may have noticed that whole problem-we-don’t-know-we-have of our need to make ourselves at home (rather than think that “home” is something we naturally have and get to and then know everything about, merely through our familiarity with it) because I went somewhere else for long enough.
It is only too easy, though, to remain superficially “touristy” both at home and somewhere else.
If you want to become at home in this life, in the places you are, in this world, you’ll have to make yourself at home. Educate yourself, explore, experience.