Ever since I left my hometown for college and then work in 1997, it has become an indispensable part of my self-introduction.
In the beginning, I would always try to gloss over it by referring to its administrative city, Quanzhou. The name of this coastal city in East China's Fujian province, known as the starting point of the "Silk Road (Silk Road travel) on the Sea", is more easily recognized than that of the land-locked mountainous county, Anxi, where I was born.
Later to my surprise, I found that it is, in fact, quite well known. With a tea-growing history dating back to the late 19th century, my hometown is now usually referred to as the "home of Tieguanyin". Tieguanyin is among the best Oolong teas in China.
While this familiarity has definitely made my introductions easier, I now have to reckon with requests for this increasingly expensive tea!
It is always a pleasure to meet up with friends over several cups of tea, as has been happening in my hometown for generations. We often refer to tea in the same way that we do food, inviting friends to "eat" tea rather than drink it. Tea has become one of the main sources of income in Anxi.
The past decade has seen a growing demand for the tea produced in my hometown, the most expensive varieties of which can cost as much as $29,200 per kg. The once-poor county has become prosperous and has changed so dramatically that once I actually lost my way to my parents' home.
I now find it increasingly hard to retrace the hometown of my childhood and teen years. But there are some things that don't change, as I discovered at this year's Lantern Festival (one of famous festival in China when you can have China vacation deals) in February.
While the event is celebrated throughout China, it varies across regions. In my hometown, a highlight of the festivities is the lantern parade at night that passes through the villages.
It starts from where the Buddha made his stop the previous year. As the Buddha carried in a sedan chair passes by the gates of a family, the family sets off firecrackers and joins the parade carrying lanterns to light the way for the Buddha. The parade gets ever longer as it goes from one village to the next and usually ends in the wee hours. The Buddha is ensconced in a village where he will stay till the next Lantern Festival.
The parade's most enthusiastic participants are usually women eager to have a son, and by children. The word "lantern" sounds similar to that for "males" in the local dialect, so local women believe that the more lanterns they add to the parade, the higher their chances of having a son.
Children love the parade and look forward to it the same way as kids in the West wait to "trick or treat" during Halloween.
Imagine a long queue of fire moving along the mountain roads that connect one village to another. The parade always reminded me of a sparkling dragon as it moved toward the gates of my home.
This year, as I heard my 6-year-old niece scream in joy over the phone as the parade neared my parents' house, I felt like I was right there with her.
My niece just dropped my call and rushed to join the parade without saying goodbye. That was rude, but I didn't mind - I would have done the same!
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Lighting up memories of a distant past