October 3, 2008

All the relatives are pouring into Hong Kong. Relatives have flown in from the U.S.. Relatives have flown in from the Philippines. It's time for a wedding.

I'm not sure which contingent of relatives I represent. Family living in China? Sort of. Family living on the U.S. west coast? Not really. Peripatetic family members with nowhere to call home? Yes, that must be who I represent.

I flew down last night. I caught a flight out of Xi'an--that's where Meenday and I parted ways. Our overland expedition over, she returned to work in Urumqi. I flew south. As always, I chose to not fly directly into Hong Kong. I instead flew to Shenzhen, the city just the other side of the border within China. I've never flown from mainland China to Hong Kong: it's a lot cheaper to get a domestic flight to the border town and just walk across the frontier.

Aunt Lulu, Uncle Philip, Aunt Anita,
David, Uncle David, & Uncle Richard
In the one full day I've been in town I've twice socialized with relatives in the typical Hong Kong style. Everybody gathers around a large round table at a restaurant. Too much food is ordered. People make conversation. Ultimately, one person from the older generation insists on picking up the entire bill.

My father has more cousins spread around the globe than I can count. I truly don't know even the general range of how many there are. The closest estimate I can make is "several dozen cousins". Meals today were taken with family on both sides--cousins through my father's mother and cousins through his father. The nature of the relationships and keeping who-was-who straight used to flummox me. I have a better sense of how it all comes together now, though. More than once at dinner this evening others asked me, "Who's that over there? How are we related?"--and I actually knew the answer.

Afternoon was dim sum with relatives on my paternal grandfather's side. Being one generation beneath everybody else, I address these cousins-once-removed as "uncle" and "auntie". There were some bona-fide uncles and aunties on hand as well this time. My father's twin brothers Uncle David and Uncle Philip flew in from the U.S. for the occasion, as did Uncle Philip's wife, Auntie Lulu.

It had been at least a couple years since I'd last seen any of the uncles and aunties. They were all looking a lot healthier and younger than I'd expected. To look at any of them I'd guess an age somewhere between late forties and early fifties. However, the chosen topics of conversation made obvious everybody's true status as a grandparent in their sixties. There was talk of medications, talk of retirement (both impending & recent), and lots of sharing of photos of grandchildren on iPhones and other electronic gadgets.

Dinner was with the other side of the family--my father's cousins from his mother's side. A banquet was arranged at a restaurant in Wan Chai: the Eighteen Brook Restaurant. Many of the people on hand were also in attendance at a similar event a couple years ago: Aunt Josephine, Uncle Lup Ng, Aunt Mabel--and about ten others. It's cool to feel that I've been through the routine enough times now to have a sense of who's who and just how we're related.

Mostly Maternal Cousins-
Again, at dinner there was too much good food.

In the one day I've been back in town I've noticed two things, both language-related:

  1. The state of English around Hong Kong is starting to deteriorate. It's still way better than the level of English anywhere in mainland China. But I'm starting to see mistakes--large-and-small--I didn't see when Hong Kong was still a colony.

  2. I can understand a lot more of the signage I see. Even though written Chinese here still uses traditional, full-form characters--which are not what I was exposed to in China--I can still make out most of what I see on the street. I couldn't recognize so many characters the last time I was in Hong Kong.

The first of two weddings will be held tomorrow.