A Chinese funeral, in Beijing

On 15 May my mother-in-law Shi Qi (born Shi Lei) passed away, after a long and difficult illness. She was born in 1932. Her husband, Sun Yang, perished in the Cultural Revolution, along with his sister Sun Weishi – both famous. She is survived by her two sons and one daughter (my wife).
The funeral was held at Babaoshan on Friday 17 May. Personally I hate funerals because I get too emotional; I was by far not the only one.
The whole process was also a new experience. I thought we were supposed to be in white. No, we had to wear black. Seems that now it is black in the big cities and white in the countryside.
An unexpectedly large group of people turned up. New for me, they brought “white envelopes”, opposed to the hongbao (red envelopes) at weddings; cash is inside. The people who leave their condolences: their names are written on white silk-like ribbons that are the fixed on the wreaths; the flowers turned out to be nearly all in plastic. I thought, re-usable. Wrong again in part: the ones hanging on the wall were indeed “rented” but the other ones, mostly of the family, were bought. After the ceremony we headed procession-like to big incinerators were the real flowers were fed into a shredder to make fertilizer and the plastics were burned along with the white ribbons.

Once the room was ready, with the others waiting outside, the close family lined up. They rolled in the coffin, opening it showing the lady. Then the visitors were led in, lined up and shook our hands. Then, people paid respect to the deceased and the son Mingming put most of the manuscripts of Shi Qi with her. She had requested that the manuscripts be burned along with her body. She also was a writer, earlier she was a professor teaching Chinese in Renmin University.
Then they closed the coffin and took it away to the incinerator.
We went to a restaurant nearby and had our lunch, with a really huge fish head dish, one of the favorite dishes of grandma. The first portion was put in a box as an offering to her.
After the lunch we headed back to Babaoshan to collect the bones. I thought it were ashes, wrong again – bones. At Grandma’s request her bones will be thrown into the river in Harbin, where she was born.
Valerie being her only real grandchild she had the special role to carry her picture. Her wreath was also at a different place, at the end of the coffin. In a rather strange procession, the red bag with bones was carried to the car and it was Valerie receiving them and taking them into the car.
And then we simply drove away. The red bag is for the time being in one of Sun’s brothers’ home, in a makeshift altar.
The pics show most of the ceremony.
Thanks to all who showed up and who showed their sympathy.

Full house at Christmas Eve

This time we beat our record I think. We had a grand total of 61 persons in our “soho” place (office/home), a varied group from Belgium, Bulgaria, China, France, Germany, Holland,  Romania, UK, USA and maybe some E.T. All there to eat the best turkey in the world, plus all other dishes. All prepared by Sun who commandeered the kitchen. I took care of cutting the huge bird and making sure the guests had enough to drink.

We had completely re-arranged the office space. But by 11:30pm when everyone was gone, all dishes were clean, all furniture back in place and no trace of the party. We were exhausted but happy.
I ended the night by emptying some bottles and we all crushed in bed….
Thanks to all our friends who made it a great night through their cheerful presence and thanks to many who lend a helping hand (though I am suspicious they were also in the kitchen to “taste” some of the food?)
Thanks also to Karin and Wilfried for their pics.

One more year and welcome 2011

The day of 31 December is very special for me and now only insiders are supposed to know.

This year we decided to keep it all quiet and spend New Year’s Eve at Morel’s Restaurant (Gongti Bei Lu), leaving us in the good hands of Susan.
As usual we ate a lot, I drank a lot and we had fun.
A good way to end “the” year and start a new one.
We also saw rabbits, the sign of another year coming very soon.
To all our friends, a Happy 2011!

Indianapolis, finally

After several failed plans to go and visit my daughter Marianne in the USA, I simply decided not to wait anymore and head for Indianapolis where she moved to, time ago, to a suburb called Carmel. It was wonderful to see her again, her two kids, her husband Mike and his parents who came over.
The kids were great as the pictures show. So was the new house, sorry, the mansion.

Indianapolis was in my eyes a picture of “typical American upscale suburban life”. All so well organized and clean (as far as I saw at least). The center of the city was strange – empty for someone coming from the frenzy of Beijing. And that in the middle of the week. Of course no people on the street as everyone is addicted to their car and distances are simply, well, vast. Not sure I saw a bike (it was of course snow time).
The supermarkets are simply huge and entice one to shop till you drop. “Normal” shops and pubs, forget about.
All a bit too quiet for a Beijinger. Guess we would all quickly die of boredom.
But for family life and kids it’s a near paradise and there you realize how much Beijing is behind in terms of facilities. Not even to talk about the air and the blue sky over there.
We visited kindergartens, all so neat and impressive.
And the local library that has a huge department for kids only (see the pics). And the Children’s Museum where kids like play with sand, water, look trains, build stuff and see lots of things they really like. And soccer on the weekends for the kids. Not to wonder why China is nowhere in terms of promoting grass-root sports and mass sports. Weekend sports such as indoor soccer for the kids of all ages is a family affair. Unlike the Chinese who send their kids for weekend intense classes for ballet, piano, extra mathematics, English, etc.
I was also lucky to visit the office where she works, meeting her colleagues.
I also went along with her to a seminar where she had to give a presentation (runs in the family?), making me as a father proud.
Hopefully she will not have to wait so long again to see me…

The Year of the Tiger

On 13 February evening we had the by now traditional “nianyefan”, the Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner. Our home office was again reshuffled to accommodate 20 or something guests, a mix of several nationalities. As usual, the Chinese tend to mostly sit in the large kitchen…
The star of the evening was of course Daisy, the cute little baby (good job John!).

Some pics – maybe later more through our special photographer Charles.
I was just over my Beijing cold and killed whatever germs with loads of red wine. The next day John and Kevin were down with another sore-throat version. Seems the virus is going around in Beijing in circles. Also, it is rumored there are many with the piggy piggy version.
Thanks to all for the company, the fun, the many nice bottles and great chocolate you brought us!