The road from
Shanghai to Shan Xia Di
3 April 2002

In April 2002, my grandfather took me to visit
Shan Xia Di (“Under the Mountain”).

I’m the first Canadian grandchild
to visit his home village.

I don’t understand the local dialect,
and can only guess what’s going on.

It’s like being a kid again.

I just go where the family goes,
and do what the others do.

It’s just a six-hour ride from Shanghai.
This used to take two days.

Grandpa built this house in 1952.

My grandmother died in Canada,
but was buried here in China.

Grandpa brought over all her things,
and dedicated this shrine to her memory.

I haven’t seen these things since 1979,
when I was eight years old.

My little brother in Edmonton,
Canada, in the 1970s

Shan Xia Di
Zhejiang Province, China
5 April 2002

Uncle Tak and his family left Hong Kong
in the 1970s, to join my parents in Canada

These pictures have been hanging
here for over twenty years.

My brother and I were born
in Edmonton, Canada.

My grandparents had to give away one son.
Uncle Sze Lung died here in 1993.

Auntie Hui Hua is the widow of that uncle.
She lives here alone with their son Doji.

My cousin Doji grew up in this house,
under all those old photos from Canada.

Xu Jun is a distant cousin.

He speaks a little English, so he
becomes my constant companion.

xiao ji = “little chicken”

Zhejiang Province is the home of Longjing
(“Dragon Well”) green tea.

Only the top grade of tea
is still dried by hand.

There’s a tree growing beside the house.
Grandpa wants to move it to the garden.

My grandfather is respected here.
So they move the tree for him.

Respected guests get first choice at a meal.
Today, the ancestral spirits are eating first.

Auntie burns silver joss paper, so that
Grandma will have wealth in heaven.

Qing Ming Jie
“Tomb Sweeping Day”
7 April 2002

We go to a relative’s house to wait
for a phone call from Canada.

Chinese weddings remain
much the same in Canada.

Qing Ming is a holiday for tending graves,
and a chance for a family outing.

According to Feng Shui tradition,
the best gravesites face south.

There should be groves of trees,
especially cypress or pine.

Grandpa’s name is already
carved next to Grandma’s.

Plain food is offered at the grave.
Rich food might attract unwanted spirits.

Fresh earth is placed
on the grave every year.

Grandpa’s father is buried
further up the mountain.

Much of the village is still poor.

8 April 2002

They’ve been commissioned
in honour of my grandmother.

Uncle Shu Kun is Grandpa’s
closest remaining cousin.

Grandpa was born in 1922.
He grew up an only child.

His father went to find work in Shanghai,
leaving wife and son in the village.

Without any education,
his father didn’t have much chance.

He started a new family in Shanghai,
leaving behind his village wife and son.

Amitabha = “the Buddha of limitless life”

Auntie Jin Hua
is Xu Jun’s mother.

Advertisement from
Edmonton 1980s

Uncle Yee Fee is Xu Jun’s father,
and a distant cousin of my own father.

Shan Xia Di lies at
the foot of the mountains.

A farmer’s shrine

The communists tried to
destroy all the old traditions.

But in the end, it was
communism which disappeared.

This video camera would cost
the entire annual wage of a villager.

9 April 2002

These trees will have hundreds of
oranges and pomelos in the autumn.

A farmer earns about $5
for a ten-hour workday.

A pound of shrimp costs two day’s wages.
We’ve been eating seafood everyday.

baba = “father”

I try to imagine what it would be like
to grow up in the village.

To have a mother who patiently
makes “tangyuan” by hand.

But my own mother is a city woman.
Hong Kong is a long way from the village.

Fenghua to Ningbo
Zhejiang Province, China
11 April 2002

Fenghua City is the local county seat,
and the original home of our ancestors.

The economy is booming,
drawing villagers into the cities.

Xu Jun is also seeking
a new life in Fenghua.

Sugar Cane

Xu Jun has already started
a factory business and lost it.

China is full of young entrepreneurs.
The competition is intense.

My grandmother was
born here in Ningbo.

Tangyuan is a local specialty.
Grandpa says Grandma made them best.

Growing up in Canada, I rarely
saw big crowds of Chinese people.

Crowds of Chinese faces
always meant I was with family.

It might sound like they’re arguing,
but that’s just the way Chinese talk.

Xu Jun’s brother lives in Ningbo.
He sells tea, especially Longjing.

Ningbo is a big city, but
foreigners are still rare here.

Many Chinese cities remain
unknown to foreigners.

Tiantong Temple to Hangzhou
Zhejiang Province, China
12 April 2002

After a while, all Chinese
temples start looking alike.

Hangzhou’s West Lake has
been famous for centuries.

Marco Polo once visited Hangzhou.
He called it paradise on earth.

Today Hangzhou is known as
the tourist capital of China.

Hangzhou is expensive,
crowded and polluted.

Chinese tourists
really drive me crazy.

But I’m lucky I can
even be a tourist.

Most Chinese can only
dream of travelling.

Hongkou to Huangpu River
Shanghai, China
17 April 2002

This place was built by Westerners,
before the Japanese invaded Shanghai.

Today, over sixty people live here.
They share just one latrine.

Much of Hongkou District is
slated for destruction.

Grandpa’s half-sister
lives here with her family.

Before World War II, Hongkou was
full of foreigners and refugees.

In the 1930s, thousands of European
Jews found refuge in this ghetto.

My grandfather lived in
Shanghai as a young man.

Starting as a poor young villager,
he eventually became a merchant.

He lived here with wife and kids,
until the Revolution started.

Grandpa left Shanghai and
moved to Hong Kong in 1957.

Grandma followed two years later,
arriving on a smuggler’s boat.

She could only bring one small son.
That boy was my father.

Their two older sons came later.
Their youngest son never left China.

Bird Market
Shanghai, China
19 April 2002

Maybe I’ve made China seem
too scenic, even romantic.

Life hasn’t been easy for
those who stayed in China.

My grandparents left to
build a better life for their children.

Wong Chun is over 90 years old.
He is Grandpa’s oldest friend.

Grandpa helped him through hard times.
They’ve been good friends ever since.

pi jiu = “beer”

The Bund
Shanghai, China
21 April 2002

The Bund is Shanghai’s
old waterfront promenade.

If not for my grandparents,
my family might still be living in China.

Maybe in Shanghai, maybe Ningbo.
Maybe Fenghua, or even the village.

My parents wouldn’t have met.
I wouldn’t have been born.

Every generation seeks a
better life for the next.

for my grandparents