Photo Gallery: Finding Fujian

When Chinese people talk about “hometown,” we refer to the place you were born, but also the area of your paternal lineage, which we often call lao jia (老家). I was born and raised in Shanghai, but my lao jia is in Fujian, a province in the southeast of China. Until recently, I had never been to Fujian. This summer, I finally took the chance to visit the place, meet my relatives in Fujian for the very first time and connect to my roots.

Relatives standing at the gate of the ancestral temple and chatting.

I’m not sure calling my journey to Fujian a “search for my roots” would be entirely accurate, honestly. After all, the things and people I encountered there were fresh, exotic and sometimes bizarre—far from being familiar or intimately related to me. I felt amazed to see the giant Fujian tulou, a traditional wooden residential structure; I envied that people here could wander in forests and mountains freely and breath fresh air; and yet, I got extremely uncomfortable and culturally shocked when my cousins enthusiastically invited me to watch buffalo killing at the night market.

The three circular configurations at the bottom right are typical of a Fujian tulou.
Interior of a Fujian tulou. A usual example has three levels, with bedrooms  located on the upper floor.
Kitchens and barns are on the first floor.

My lived experience and knowledge as a city girl often clashed with the new experiences I gained in Fujian. My feelings existed in a sort of complex mixture. My stay in Fujian wasn’t too long—only a little bit more than a week. For this reason, I hope to capture these fading, scintillating moments in Fujian through this poem.

Fujian is known for growing peanuts.

Anecdotes in Fujian

Wide bottoms and small waists

are the people who sit in the city,

Round bellies and lean feet

are the people who wake up surrounded by mountains and trees.

Under the 3 p.m. sun,

you take naps.

While I already open my laptop,

attending meetings and having chats.

The cedar and pine are the scorpions residing in the hill,

green, fluffy, hairy.

They were then sewed into teddy bears’ covers,

about to be stuffed and sent to my bestie.

Surrounding the circular tulous are smaller, rectangular ones. Depending on the size and shape of the tulou, you can tell whether the family is big or small.

You said, let us go watch buffalo killing.

I wondered whether in the buffalo’s dream

they’re gonna be meatballs,

bouncing into my belly,

tough, rubbery and chewy.

The dish is called “Lao shu ban” in local dialect, referring to the mouse tail shape. The noodle stew is cooked with beef meatballs.

Not yet had I dreamed,

my dream was washed away by the flood

twenty years ago, indeed.

Water flooded the legs of Mahjong1 table since fifteen past three.

Red soil went rotten and spread over every corner of the village,

leaving stains on the nearly translucent white clothes.

Jianghu Langzhong2 handed me a packet of pills,

wrapped in a triangular grey paper like zongzi3.

Pills are green, blue and yellow,

and I dare not to eat.

I was afraid of them stirring in my stomach painfully

like when my mother gave birth to me.

A buffalo and a van rush into each other on the highway,


Suddenly, I discovered that we all have the same

short chin.

It seems that this cute watchdog knows a better place to cool down than me.
  1. Mahjong: A tile-based game developed in China during the Qing Dynasty. The game is usually played among four people, with a set of 144 tiles based on Chinese characters and symbols.  Each player begins by receiving 13 tiles. In turn, players draw and discard tiles until they complete a legal hand using the 14th drawn tile to form four melds (or sets) and a pair (eye).
  2. Jianghu Langzhong: Chinese slang for a quack.
  3. Zongzi: A traditional Chinese cuisine made of glutinous rice with sweet or salty stuffing, wrapped in bamboo leaves. Chinese people eat zongzi during the Dragon Boat Festival to memorialize the great poet and politician Qu Yuan.

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