In my last post, I announced that I’m headed back to Malaysia soon. As my days in Beijing are quickly drawing to an end, I would like to share what they have been like here. It may not sound too exciting, but every single day has been special to me.
The alarm on my phone goes off at 9 am sharp. Usually I like to naturally wake, which means I end up sleeping in til late, but in Beijing at my grandma’s, I set an alarm to wake up at a decent time so she doesn’t think I’m a bum :P. But really, it’s actually pretty nice to wake up earlier and get more stuff done during the day.
When I’m up, my grandma and I head out to the community park right away. I ate soooo much food the first week of Chinese New Year that as soon as it was over, I decided that I need to get back on an exercise routine.
I love Chinese parks. They’re well used and well loved. The mornings are the liveliest and a good place to observe the social life of the elderly. The group dance (led by an 85 year old woman!) always draws in a large number of participants, most of them obviously regulars as they all know the moves. There are mothers with toddlers. There are tai-chi practitioners and sword dancers. There’s the neighborhood crazy who bikes around the park yelling out random words of encouragement. There’s the ping pong posse in the back corner, gossiping as they hit the ball back and forth.
This daily park visit does both of us good. Not only does it allow us to get some exercise, it also allows my grandma to get out of the house and chat with her friends. My grandma used to be a regular visitor and has a circle of ping pong buddies (they had all pitched in money to build the little ping pong corner), but she hasn’t been here to play in 6 years – ever since that fateful day when she was playing at the park and my grandpa decided to walk back home alone and took a fall that changed everything.
Since then, she has remained at home caring for my grandpa. Her health has also deteriorated greatly these years. I’m really glad she can get out and start taking care of herself now.
Sometimes I join the dancers and attempt some moves, though I’m sure my image is laughable. When I give up, I use the park exercise equipment and happily watch them instead. There’s a little old lady who can’t hit a move worth a dime, but that doesn’t stop her from trying everyday. Most days, my grandma and I play this Chinese paddle ball (which always draws interest from strangers) or ping pong together. If my grandma bumps into her friends, we’ll stay and chat with them for a while. I swear, the average age of my social circles these days is 80. :P
Isn’t my grandma (the one facing the camera) the cutest?! She’s known as the 双枪老太婆 (double-gunned granny) because she always uses two ping pong paddles to play.
After the park, we walk out to the main street to buy some groceries to use for the rest of the day. This area is all residential apartment buildings, but the first floor spaces have all been converted into little shops. There’s our meat guy and our grocer and our grains lady. My grandma has been shopping with them for years. In fact, the day my grandfather fell sick, she rushed out the door to ask them to help carry him down the stairs to be taken to the hospital. I love this tight knit community. I feel like you definitely don’t get neighbors like this in America.
My uncle said that in certain areas of the city, the government is cleaning up these street-side shops and converting them back into residences. It won’t be long now until they hit our neighborhood. I think it’ll be such a shame.
We buy a couple of bags of groceries and go back home to start cooking lunch. Today we’re eating soft pancakes. My grandma had already prepped the batter (carrot, onion, egg, and flour, and some water) in the morning while I was still sleeping. Spread out on the grill pan to cook (kind of like a crepe). Super easy. We also quickly whip up some stir-fry to go in them.
The afternoon is resting time. My grandma retires to her room for a bit of a lay-down. Her cat, Neko, is curled up fast asleep on my bed. The sun shines into the room right onto this corner of the bed and this is where you can find him most afternoons.
He looks so comfortable that it’s making me sleepy too. So I do as the cat does and lay down for a nap as well. I guess I adapt to other people’s habits really easily, so here with my grandma, I live the leisurely life of an octogenarian. :P
When we wake up, it’s time to start preparing dinner! We had bought some stuff to make dumplings earlier so that’s what we do today. You’re not a true Beijinger if you don’t eat dumplings at least a few times a week and/or don’t know how to wrap them and/or don’t have at least a few meals’ worth of frozen ones in the fridge.
My absolute favorite filling is pork + dill, so that’s what we’re making.
Within an hour, we’ve got a few platters of dumplings!
About half of what we make goes into the freezer for a lazy day dinner, and the other half goes straight into a pot of boiling water. Cooking fresh dumplings is super fast, so within just minutes, we each have a steamy plate of boiled dumplings in front of us, to be eaten dipped in black vinegar.
I’ll spare you yet another dumplings photo. But here’s my view during dinner most days:
As soon as we sit down to eat, Neko comes out from wherever he’s hiding and starts begging for food. He puts his paws up on my chair and meows horribly. Neko is a temperamental cat who does not dole out affection easily. I feel a small tinge of pride that I have somehow managed to capture his affection during my short stay here.
The rest of the evening passes quietly with my grandma reading the newspapers and me working on my laptop. It’s a simple life we lead here. Maybe even a little humdrum. But you know what? It’s also pretty perfect. :)
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