At Peter's House
There is a guy I met in my dorm, his English name is Peter. I didn't know him that well, but I had breakfast with him once in our dining hall. I found out that his hometown was right outside of Wuhan and so I got his Chinese phone number. Our team had been in Wuhan for about two and a half weeks before I thought to text Peter. I asked him if he wanted to come and hang out with our team in Wuhan. He instead asked us if our team wanted to come to his house that weekend for lunch.
It ended up that only Riley and I could go. So that Saturday at 11:00 am, Peter's uncle came and picked us up from our hotel. We were in the car with Peter, his uncle and two cousins. The car ride was awkward, partially because Peter was the only one who spoke English in the car. I thought that our stay at Peter's house might be in a manner similar to our car ride, but I was thoroughly deceived. When we arrived in the driveway of Peter's house, a box of firecrackers was set off in our honor. We got out the car and shook hand like foreign dignitaries. Quickly we realized that Peter, Riley and I were the only one that spoke English in this extended family of twenty or more. We went inside and were directed to two chairs that would be more accurately described as thrones. We were given fresh tea along will peanuts in the shell, crackers, watermelon seeds and a strange fruit I didn't know the name of. Then a strange thing happened, it suddenly became very quiet, and I realized the firecrackers had stopped.
We were told it was time for lunch and were ushered through a courtyard and into a special dining room and given the seats of honor. The food was all fresh, out of the family's own fields and pond: Lobster, salt-dried fish, pig intestine, green beans, cabbage, spiced rice along with dog (gasp!).Riley and I both ate a lot of food, because we were hungry. Everyone was so hospitable: they were constantly asking if I was hungry, thirsty or if I needed a napkin. It was humbling to be constantly served.
After lunch, we went back into the living room and had more tea and watermelon. Peter's father tried to explain to us the tradition of the Chinese tea culture, where people sit around and discuss the qualities of the tea they are drinking as well as chat about their lives. This whole time Peter was translating for us, until Peter's dad realized that if he spoke slowly and with a simple vocabulary, that I could understand. We held a strained conversation for about five minutes.
We started off with some black tea, then green tea (my favorite) and finally bamboo shoot tea. There was a small fixture on the table with plumbing, so there was hot water on demand to make the tea. There was even a drain, to let excess water drain away. Every few minutes, Peter's dad would pour hot water over the whole fixture and the water would drain away.
Peter asked us if we wanted to take a nap (Chinese custom) or go climb a mountain. We choose the latter. We started out, Peter, two of his cousins and Riley and I. We walked over a bridge, a canal and then wove our way through small fields, gardens really. It is just like you see in the pictures of rural China: small shacks and a farmer with the conical bamboo hat out hoeing the flooded rice paddy. We found a paved path and followed it up the face of the mountain. We climbed about 1.5 kilometers until we reached the summit. Climbing that mountain really reminded me of backpacking with my family. We arrived at the top of the mountain and found a Buddhist temple. We heard a drum beating and some chanting. The temple was inside a cave. The cave was physically dark, but it also felt very spiritually dark. Riley and I felt uneasy about going into the cave, so we prayed for the Holy Spirit to be with us and we felt confident to go in. There was a female monk sitting inside and many idols. We came out of the cave and with all that in that background, we got to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with Peter and his cousins. We knew that we had the power to combat the darkness that we felt around us with the truth.
As we walked the path down the mountain, the sun came out and beat down on us. We sweat no small quantity. At this point we asked Peter what time he thought we could go back to our hotel (envisioning a cold shower and a fresh set of clothes). Peter informed us that it is customary for guests to stay for two or three days at least, but we needed to talk to his father.
We talked with Peter’s father and asked if we could go back to our hotel, he told us we would offend the ancient tradition if we did not at least spend the night. Not knowing much about this “ancient tradition”, but not wanting to offend it, we decided we could spend the night. They showed us a shower and Riley and I washed up a bit, but we had to put our old, sweaty clothes back on. We hung out in the courtyard of the house and ate some more watermelon, while Peter’s father explained to us the meaning of all the hand-painted murals painted on the ceiling and awning of the walkway between the house and dining room. Then, Peter asked us if we would like to play Majong. We of course agreed and sat down at the special table. We didn’t realize right away how special this table was. It was automated, and our tiles rose through the base of the table at the press of a button.
After this, we made to dumplings, ate some dumplings (a before dinner snack). Then, out of the blue, Peter told me he had a relative that believed in Jesus. Even though it seemed like Peter hadn’t been receptive earlier, God was working on his heart and he was thinking about what we had said.
We went around to the front of the house, and this was a magnificent house. It was three stories tall, over one hundred feet wide and had three doors, one for Peter’s dad and one for each of his two uncles. The house was new, with a definite artistic style. It was dark, and lanterns were spinning sending dancing light all over the driveway. Peter’s dad repeatedly mentioned the size of the house, the unique and traditional style and the fact he had designed it all himself.
We were then called in for dinner, it was much like lunch: more great food, family and toasting all around. It did not cease to intrigue me. I realized that at the meals, it was only the males sitting around the table. I don’t know where Peter’s aunts and girl cousins ate, but not with us.
We finished supper and went to KTV in town. If you don’t know what KTV is, it is a phenomenon that is not easily described unless it had been experienced, but I guess it is somewhat like karaoke in America. The most noteworthy part was when Peter’s dad and his uncles sung us a “welcome to China” song. Then the owner of the KTV came in and sung us a song.
You know what we needed after KTV? More food. We went to get some “barbeque”. It ended up being crab, lobster, snails and fish. The manager of the coal mine (the largest employer in town) stopped by to say hi and eat some food with us.
At this point (about 2 am), we were a little tired. We drove back and were shown a bed. By the way, Chinese mattresses are approximately an inch thick. In spite of this, I fell asleep quickly and woke up six hours later and ate some breakfast (the fifth meal they managed to feed us in less than twenty four hours). We offered the only gift we could scrounge up—a Chinese Bible—considering the hospitality we had received.
The whole experience stands out among anything else we did in China. I felt like we experience more of Chinese culture in that day than in entire college courses. Our coming, in itself was like a holiday. We were told that we were the first Americans ever to enter their village, maybe we were the first with the gospel.