浪心:surging hearts


grandma sou from langxin village

The characters for 浪心村, Langxin Village literally translate as “wave heart” village. However, I’ve chosen to title this entry “surging hearts” because of the four people I met there.

This weekend, Yan Ling invited me to go with her to langxin to interview Grandma Sou, a 90 year-old woman who was still living in her old home; indeed she had been in the same home for over seventy years, since the day she married into Langxin. Her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren have all moved out of the village. Some are in the United States, others live in new village housing located next to the old village, which is now home to migrant workers.

Because neither Yan Ling nor I speak enough Cantonese to actually interview anyone, we asked A Jun to go with us. Once we arrived, however, A Jun suggested that we find someone from the village to introduce us to Grandma Sou. In old village housing next to the yuan surname ancestoral hall, we asked who had a key to the ancestoral hall so we could see it. A woman from Hunan brought us to Uncle Chen’s house. Born in Langxin, Uncle Chen retired to langxin in 1992. Before that he had been in Beijing and for a time in Hong Kong.

Uncle Chen told us that the Yuan ancestoral hall was one of three important buildings in the village. The other two were a family temple and the old school. All three were in various statges of disrepair, although money was spent to keep the ancestral hall and village clean and incense burning. In order to earn the roughly 5,000 rmb necessary to keep the ancestral hall clean, Uncle chen had rented out space behind the hall to migrants. the rental money was used for the upkeep and an annual dinner for all the villagers.

“How many villagers are there?” I asked.

“Roughly 20 males in the village,” Uncle Chen replied.

“Not many.”

“No,” he agreed. “They’ve all left.”

Not quite it turns out.

We asked uncle chen to introduce us to Grandma Sou. He agreed to ask if she would see us. And she did, with the caveat that she was partially deaf and couldn’t understand most of what was said to her. So we went to her home, where she smiled at us, and we smiled back, as Uncle Chen occasionaly screamed our questions at her.

WHY DON’T YOU LEAVE?

Because its quiet here.

DO YOU COOK FOR YOURSELF?

Yes.

WHO DOES YOUR SHOPPING?

My children.

After a few photos, we left. I was struck by her graciousness and also her independence. We could come or go; this was her life and it certainly needed no explanation or documentation. At the door, we met two of her friends, who have also lived in the village for almost seventy years. They come to visit everyday, even though they know Grandma Sou can’t hear them speak.

“How many old women are in the village?” we asked.

Over ten was the answer.

They asked me where I was from and laughed when I insisted that they were beautiful, one of the few phrases I can manage in Cantonese. They allowed me to take their pictures and then went in to sit with Grandma Sou.

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