Friday was the lunar new year, also known as the Spring Festival, which was
usually celebrated with fireworks, couplets, dumplings, and family gatherings in
the land of China. This time of the year, migrants used to travel across the
country (and recently the globe) to reunite with loved ones. One college
roommate, Bill remembered, spent ten days out of a two-week winter break on the
round-trip between Beijing and Hainan.
For 2021, however, Covid changed everything. Travel was made difficult and
most people stayed put. Bill didn't know what to think of it. Sure. He wanted to
go back to visit as in the past, but having done that many times, the excitment
had dwindled. The good thing was that he could video-chat with folks back home.
Aunt was her sanguine self and had few plans this year. Most of her land was
outsourced to a big farming company years ago and she had little left to till. She
kept herself busy and planted a garden and some fruit trees. It would be a lot of
work, but in May, she was going to put hundreds of bags over her cherries to
fend off birds.
"Pork costs 30 yuans for half a kilo but nobody in the village tends pigs these
days. They get sick often and need vaccines all the time. I'm not even
raising chickens." she said. "It's not like in the past and you can't let them
loose. Weasels steal them."
"What's the point of living in a village if you can't even keep chickens?" Bill was
incredulous. "There must be something that can be done. A dog would help. No?"
"Sure." She said. "Even geese droppings would keep the pests away. But you would
need a good coop and spread the manure around it."
"I don't know about manure, but I sure can't recommend geese highly enough. They
even attacked me!" Once a Canada goose repeatedly chased and charged at him
kamikaze style as he ran into its territory on the levee.
Indeed, how things changed over the past 40 years! There was a time when almost
every farmer kept a pig or two just for the festival. As a kid, Bill used to lie
on his stomach in bed and watch his uncle ironing away the hairs on a pig's head
with the red hot tip of an iron rod. The smell of sizzling pork skin promised
great meals in the coming days.
Both her kids working out of town, Aunt had to spend ChuXi alone. Bill was
thankful that relatives, close or remote, lived nearby and visited her often. He
realized that he missed all of them. It was a community based on marriage and
blood relations, but a real and caring community nonetheless, a precious thing
left from the old way of life.