Our first rooting day gave us an opportunity to experience two of Albert Cheng’s adages: 1. Be flexible (which means “we think we’re going to one person’s village, but we might end up at another’s) and 2. Be open to miracles, aka divine intervention from our ancestors. As our bus rolled into the village, we were greeted by the head of the village at the gateway flanked on the village by a pair of trees. We learned about Barbara, Cindy, Amanda and Diane’s connection with the famous red-faced General Guan Yu from the “Romance of the Three Kingdom’s” era (almost 1800 years ago).
A short walk down an alleyway brought us to a house once owned by Barbara’s ancestor and then further down the alley and a left turn took us to her relative’s house, where she performed the ceremonies at several altars and fireworks were set off to honor her predecessors. Barbara’s Chinese helped her communicate with her relatives enough to verify details about their stories and to know she was offered a chicken – make that a live chicken – to take home. One more turn down another alley way took us to the newer home of her grandparents, where the plaque on the left showed her grandmother’s name. As if to signal the joy of the reunion, a pair of dragon flies mating flew overhead.
We hopped on the bus, went a very short distance and this time it was Cindy, Diane and Amanda’s turn. The walled courtyard appeared ominous, especially with its glass shards at the top, but as soon as we walked through the gate into the courtyard, we knew this was a wealthy family’s home. Although the house was barren, its spaciousness and remnants of stained glass hinted of another time. This house had its wood bars across the entrance door in place. Lacy iron corbels buttressed the overhang at the front side of house.
The excitement of the two finds was topped off by a visit to Chikan, a town nearby where Cindy, Diane and Amanda’s ancestor had a noodle shop and overseas Chinese again brought their experiences in the new world to their homeland. Albert told us to look for Elsie Lam, one of our guides, and the peanut brittle vendor. We did not have to go far as we crossed the bridge over the Tanjiang River. A photo of former Rooters including Elsie graced the post and the packaging labels of the peanut brittle, which we got to watch being made. The best part was sampling this delicious treat. I knew my Lebanese family would enjoy every morsel. Chachkies galore, dried fish and chickens, Chinese sausage and bacon as well as a calligrapher tantalized our senses and memories of our youth. While Cindy, Amanda and Diane explored the Guan Library, I peeked through the gate and wondered what the Hotel Paris was like back in the day and people-watched in this town created over a hundred years ago.