The Chinese New Year dinner was a success, although Daniel was so busy translating and snapping pictures, he barely got to eat.
We asked questions about what it was like living in Beijing during the 1960s and 70s. It was a bit surreal as the fireworks exploded outside the window and we feasted on fish and chicken wings and lotus root to hear stories of how Daniel’s parents used to eat leaves and roots to supplement their ration of dried beans. As we sipped sparkling wine we listened as Daniel translated their words about how baijiu used to cost a few fen, and you could eat an entire restaurant feast for a couple quai.
They said people were happier back then, though. We incredulously asked how they could be happy if they were starving. Because of the translation it was a bit confusing to tell exactly what time they were referring to…maybe they meant the happier time came later, when the food rations increased and the periods of extreme deprivation had passed. They said people aren’t as happy now, though. Even though people have so much more, they aren’t as happy.
We were happy, though, despite the somber recollections. Daniel’s dad bustled around to get beers out for everyone, and his mom brought out plate after plate of boiled dumplings filled with pork and greens. We dunked them into garlicky vinegar, and clinked our glasses to the new year. It felt like a holiday, spent with family, crowded around a table with funny awkward lulls and cozy chatter and contented eating.