Recently my sister visited our ancestral home in Chaozhou (潮州), China. It’s a small Teochew village in the Guangdong province. Built during the Qing Dynasty, a sugarcane plantation currently sits nearby the sleepy and rural village. Everything in the world has its origins in China. In this village, there’s even a small factory packing candy for Indonesia while a radio blasted Chinese socialist songs. Here, cigarettes are distributed uninhibitedly as a welcome gesture, second only to tea.
My sister, Rebecca (above), does everything better than me (I think it’s because she’s left-handed). I prefer her work over mine all the time so I will let her photographs from China speak for themselves — save for some captions (her own) to put them in context. There’s a sense of familiarity mixed with much strangeness.
This building is either pre-war or around WWII. The general motif on grills appears to be water birds (seagulls, cranes) as the area is near the sea — which reminds me of San Francisco with seagulls on signboards. The balconies have plaster ceiling with ornate flower designs of chrysanthemum and peony. The staircase is so narrow you’d have to adjust your feet sideways while traipsing from one dark hallway to another.
The main thing they serve here is Sha Cha Mien (沙茶麵) or literally Sand Tea Noodles, an ubiquitous dish in Xiamen. The noodles are served in a soup consisting of various meats of your choice. Many small restaurants use paper bowls and styrofoam for both sit-ins and takeaways to cut cost.
This is at the town section of our ancestral village. There’s a western style bakery with an old greasy oven, a salon, tailor’s, small boutiques selling auntie blouses like the one seen here on the left. There are also medicinal halls scattered around.
There’s a huge wok of boiling tar to immerse duck, geese and pig’s head in. Later, the meat is doused in a basin of cold water and then with a cleaver, the tar is scrapped off from the skin along with feathers and fur. They do this by the side of the street.
This is in the old part of Chaozhou. Along this road, there’s a shop making fresh noodles for sale, another selling pastries and other savory tidbits, steamed glutinous rice in lard-wrap, fresh dim sum, etc. Around the corner is the residential area, still bearing Qing style architecture not unlike our ancestral village, but perhaps better maintained.
These two people speak Hokkien. They tell us their relatives came to Malaysia and eventually, after several years, they lost all contact with each other. Someone stopped writing, they claimed. They believe, perhaps that someone over the ocean is ashamed of the mainlanders and their rural ways. The woman wears a toothy smile, glistening in the morning light from all the silver fillings she had installed. On her feet are a pair of bright yellow Tweety bird bedroom slippers that are soiled at the edges.
More photos of her China trip can be found here. She has a whole lot more that she didn’t scan for the rest of the world wide web, unfortunately.
The title of this post translates, “our own people” or ka ki nang in Teochew. Teochews are fond of using this term to mean family.
Oh, and happy new year.