Traveling through the countryside, close to DiaoShuiHu National Forest Park, in North East China's Jilin Provence, I stopped at some remote dwellings along the side of the road. I was beckoned into one of the small buildings by a man offering refreshments. On entry, I realized that this one room structure was not just a shop but also the home of a family. Two children, their parents and grandfather, all living together. The house was alive with the excitement of having a foreigner inside. The children laughed and couldn't think of enough questions to ask.
The mother offered me some home cooked food from a wood burning stove in the kitchen that took up one corner of the room. A doughy fried bread with meat inside was served up and was delicious. She wore a smile on her face the whole time and made a huge fuss over the unexpected visit. She fried up some pancakes , disciplined the kids, all the while she never stopped cleaning up around her. She truly deserved the 'S' on her chest.
In the adjacent corner, was a large raised area where the whole family slept. The fire from the stove also heated pipes under the bed, keeping them warm in the harsh winter months, when temperatures can reach as low as -30 degrees celsius. Lying on the bed was the grandfather. Immobilized by an illness or just old age. He could only follow me with his eyes but was able to repeat the words 'Ni Hao' , hello, many times as he happily watched the unusual guest in his home. This may well have been the home he was born and grew up in. Where he raised his children and they in turn, raised theirs. And I may well have been the first foreigner he hosted.
When it was time to go, we said our goodbyes and I thanked them as the children waved from the doorway. This was a remote part of the countryside, not often traveled by Chinese, and I thought as I walked away, if they would ever have a foreigner in their home again. Seeing three generations living together in one room and also their place of business, can put a lot of things into perspective. Family truly was their strength. Since then, I have often wondered how they are doing. A simple life, so disconnected from my own, yet I always imagine that they are happy. They might not have had the things I consider to be necessities in my life but they seemed to have all the necessities they needed in theirs.