Maria Niechwiadowicz


Well, I have been back in Guyuan for about five days now, after my journey through India, and was immediately swept up in the festivities of the Chinese New Year! Xinnian kuaile! I certainly have a lot to say about my trip, but that will have to come later. Let’s focus on now.

The room is full but not packed. Apples, oranges, nuts, seeds, chocolates, and other snacks in colored bowls take up the entire coffee table in front of me. The TV is playing some animated Chinese show, but no one is paying attention. Smoke floods the air in intervals as the men puff on cigarettes in between rounds of mahjong. The women sit on the large bed jabbering, follow their bundled toddlers around the room, or stake out in the kitchen. “Chi, chi,” the aunties say to me, pointing to the table of food. This happens at least every ten minutes. I sit mostly silent, peeling a clementine as slowly as I can. I’ve lost track how many I’ve eaten by now. Once in a while I engage in simple conversation or answer translated questions, not being able to understand the thick Guyuan dialect that fills the room, but mostly just listen and observe. I try to take in everything, filling my brain with mental notes about various observations: the social interactions between old and young, parenting methods, and hosting norms. It is a family holiday, which means that even though there are guests coming in and out by the hour, the family is relaxed. Despite the foreign atmosphere I am at peace. I mean, spending three straight days with the Yang family is exhausting, even when I’m not doing the talking, but it feels relatively normal. Guyuan has become the place to come back to after each vacation or weekend holiday over the past 18 months and it feels comfortable.

Arriving by bus in the daylight or by train at night, the Guyuan Ling pagoda stands as a beacon – providing that ‘welcome home’ feeling and sigh of relief that the various modes of transportation to get here are finally over. It makes me excited for that same feeling when I return to Sioux Falls, SD and see Joe Foss standing in the airport or the downtown skyline, knowing that family is just beyond.

I feel blessed to be able to return here, to Guyuan. For now.