A Visit to Grandparents Home-Life in China: A Westerner’s Perspective

It is Chinese New Year 2016. I am in the Yellow Mountains of China in Anhui Province. Chinese New Year is a time when millions of Chinese return to their home towns to be with family. It is a holiday for visiting friends and relatives and eating! I think it is most similar to Thanksgiving in the US.


We visited my wife’s grandparents 20 minutes outside of the village of Tao Hua Tan. They live in a small village with older homes that were probably built 30 or 40 years ago. They are in their seventies (The grandfather is 79).


They maintain a fairly large garden in the back courtyard that

The Front Courtyard

supplies them many of the vegetables they eat. They raise chickens and the grandfather, I was told, fishes. The gardens were meticulously maintained. Plantings were layed out out in neat rows and they were well tended, as I did not see any weeds. There were also other ornamental plants. There was a small pond, the purpose of it was not clear to me. In the back corner was a small pen made mostly of bamboo that held the chickens. The chicken pen was also very clean and well maintained. It is clear that these people love their home and spend a lot of time tending to it, despite their age!


A view into the kitchen

Dinner was ready! The dishes were layed out on a traditional round table that could seat 10 of the twenty people that were visiting. All of the food was prepared by the grandparents. In the center of the table was chicken soup made with one of the chickens they raise. You can’t eat food that is more fresh than this!  I must say that they are very good cooks. The food was delicious! Yet another thing this couple takes pride in doing.

The gardens in the back courtyard



Of course, with the meal there was bai jiu. A strong white liquor that is always served at family gatherings. It is served in small glasses and it is customary to always ask someone at the table to drink with you.  Never take a drink by yourself! While you eat you go around the table inviting people to drink until the bottles are all empty!

Dinner is served


The grandparents are vibrant people who seem to stay very active and so they come across as being much younger than their age. They maintain a lovely home and are very gracious hosts. It was a truly enjoyable visit!

The “Fire Bucket” (Hua Tong) – Life in China: A Westerner’s Perspective

 In China, south of the Yangtze River, many homes do not have heat despite temperatures that dip down into the 20s and 30s in the Winter.
I am in a small village in the Yellow Mountains and so far none of the homes I have visited have heat. The temperature on my arrival was 35 degrees and it has since dipped to 28 degrees. Four inches of snow fell and the main water line to this part of the village froze.

Life here is pretty cold. But there is one object that is in many homes that gives you a little relief from the cold. In Chinese it is called a Huo Tong. Loosely translated “Fire Bucket”. Quite literally it is a large wooden bucket. At the bottom they place a pan with hot coals covered with a layer of ash. Then a wire grate is placed over the pan and a blanket or heavy towel is placed over the top of the bucket to keep the heat in.

 This bucket serves several purposes. First, a pot of tea is often found in the bucket. This keeps the tea hot and ready for drinking throughout the day. Food in pots is also placed in the bucket  to keep the food hot until it is ready to eat.

 The fire bucket is not so hot that it cooks food. The coals just provide warmth that lasts for many hours before they need to be replenished.

But when your feet
become numb from the cold and you are chilled to the bone you can sit beside the bucket, place your legs inside and cover up with the blanket. The warmth is truly comforting. Very much like sitting beside a fireplace on a cold winter day. On really cold days you might see 2 or 3 people sitting together with their legs in the bucket enjoying the warmth a good conversation.