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It soon came that I had to make the pilgrimage to visit my father’s ancestral home in Wuxi, located about 2 hours outside of Shanghai. Although my father was not technically born in Wuxi, the city counts as his hometown because his grandfather was born there.
In Chinese thought, your hometown can be the hometown of your grandfather, so technically my hometown is Shanghai, even though I was born and raised in Los Angeles.
It was also a week after Chingming, which is a Chinese holiday where you go visit your deceased ancestors. You bring food and fruit to share with them, pay your respects, and sweep the grave clean. Everyone goes, and so on the actual day the cemetery grounds get extremely crowded. So thus my family decided to go later.
We first went to see my mother’s grandmother, who is buried in Suzhou, located about an hour and a half outside of Shanghai. After climbing up what basically was a large mountain, my mom and aunt puffing along with an aiyi guiding the way. The aiyis you make an appointment with to take you up the mountain to the grave your looking for; they also clean each grave marker. This woman was 75 and in the best shape I’ve ever seen.
I wish I had pictures, but alas, it would be weird to photograph when I’m making a visit to pay respect to the dead.
After spreading out a picnic of bananas, mangoes, pineapple cakes, wife cakes, and oranges, we all bowed in front of my great-grandmother’s grave. Then we had to clean up, took away some of the food, and went back down the mountain and onto Wuxi.
Lunch was on a lake. And I do mean on a lake.
The restaurant is located in the Hubin Hotel complex, which obviously is enormous since it also has a lake. The food was good, although service left something to be desired, as the waitresses were all trainees trained in the Chinese style of “I don’t care if I’m rude” art of waitressing.
After filling up, we piled back into our minivan and headed to visit my father’s grandfather. The same deal happened there: an aiyi was patiently waiting for us; she led us about 1000 steps up a mountain; we spread out a lovely picnic for great-grandpa and grandma, bowed, and picked up everything and went back down the mountain.
Which leads us to another car ride to find my father’s ancestral home.
Now, my dad never actually lived there, but my great-grandfather built this place up from scratch. It’s now the Wuxi Town Community Hall. I can see why; the building looks quite official, and a cross between Chinese and European design.
While I found the home to be a lovely piece of architecture, I was more interested in what was across the street.
Afterwards we had dinner at this seafood restaurant with the most interesting Art Deco-meets-Rococo decorations. The wall paper has this 1920s Egyptian flair, the molding was this ornate gold leaf pattern, and there were statues of Greek gods sitting next to an inoperable fireplace. It was one of the most fantastic restaurants I’ve ever seen. Again, I WISH I took a picture.
Coming: I went to Beijing for a day.