November 22, 2014

Old school Hong Kong day part 2: village wedding

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After bidding farewell to my visitors, I hopped on the train and slowly made by way to the northwest corner of Hong Kong.  One of my friends - who is an indigenous inhabitant (原居民) - is throwing a wedding banquet in her ancestral village in the New Territories.  This was a rare opportunity for me to see a part of Hong Kong that many of us don't get much exposure to.

A couple of years ago, I had asked my friend about the opportunity to visit her village so that I could have the opportunity to sample the famous poon choi (盆菜) offered in the New Territories during the festive season.  Well, I'm glad I finally got that invitation, and even happier that it's for her wedding banquet!

After a short bus ride from the nearest train station, I followed the signs in the direction of my friend's village in Ha Tsuen (夏村).  I soon started seeing various signs and posters they put up to guide us in the right direction, so it turned out to be pretty easy for me to find my way... whereas a bunch of people who drove had a lot more trouble than I did.

When enough people have arrived, the bride (the groom did show up, eventually...) led us on a tour of the village.  First stop was this landmark which announced that one is now in Ha Tsuen.

There was also a temporary gate built over the main road leading into the villages, which is part of the once-in-a-decade celebration to pay tribute to the ancestors.

We next headed to the Tang Ancestral Hall (鄧氏宗祠).  This one in Ha Tsuen is apparently neither the only nor the oldest ancestral hall for the extended clan, but still dates back to 1750 - during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (乾隆) in the Qing Dynasty.

Inside the hall were various plaques on display, essentially documenting and showcasing the glorious history of the clan.  If I'm not mistaken these red wooden boards are used to announce the official titles of dignitaries.

The inner chamber housed plaques representing the ancestors from numerous generations of the clan.  This is where one would come offer incense and pay one's respects on special occasions.

As I walked around admiring the sights, I kinda got to thinking about my own family.  Do we have something like this?  I'm not 100% sure but I don't think so.  I always joked that my dad's side of the family were poor farmers from rural China, and it's true that nothing was absolutely nothing spectacular that came out of our part of the province.  Mom also mentioned that dad's side of the family had moved once upon a time, so it's unlikely that anything similar still remains.  Given that both my paternal grandparents had passed on, I've never visited my ancestral home, and almost no one from this small branch of the family has kept in touch with other branches on Mainland China... chances are I'll never find out.

Mom's side of the family still had relatives living in the ancestral areas, but still, nothing like this exists for them.  Mom's grandpa was kicked out of his home by his own kids during the Cultural Revolution and reduced to sweeping the streets.  So... thanks to the Red Guards and their campaign against the "Four Olds", it's unlikely anything resembling an ancestral hall would have survived that era.

So there it is.  I would certainly consider myself Chinese - both ethnically and culturally speaking - but for some of us who grew up in Taiwan, and whose ancestors did not migrate to Taiwan generations ago, our roots have kinda been destroyed.  That's a little sad, when you think about it...

The tour actually took a little longer than I expected, and also included the new buildings which the family is building.  The "indigenous villagers" - male members of the clan aged 18 or above - can apply for a Small House Grant.  They can then build houses which cover no more than 700 square feet per floor, and rise no more than 3 floors.  My friend's younger brother got one, but of course she gets nothing because she's not a boy...

Well, it was time for the banquet to begin, so we all settled down at a table that was laid out in the courtyard, and one by one the big bowls were brought out.  Poon choi (盆菜) feasts consist of only one course - since everything is throw into the big metal bowl.  The bowl is then covered with aluminum foil, and reheated on top of butane stoves at the table.

It took a while for the food to heat up, since the bowl was filled to above the brim, but we were all excited when we finally decided to remove the foil and dig in.

So what's in the bowl?  Let's see... prawns, steamed chicken, pork belly, pork rind, fish balls, dace fish balls (鯪魚球), shiitake mushrooms, squid, taro, and radish.  We were also given different veggies that we could add into the bowl ourselves.

The happy couple went honeymooning in Tuscany earlier this year, and picked out some wines for this banquet...

Sacchetto Prosecco Spumante Brut - a little floral and pretty easy to drink.

2011 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano - still very young.  Tannins are there but soft enough to drink.

We sat under the stars as we indulged, trying our damnedest to make a dent to the pile of food in front of us.  I think eventually we managed to clear out about half of it between the 9 of us, and even took a box of it home.

This was quite an eye-opening experience for me.  I'm glad I finally got to have poon choi, and even happier that this was at my friend's wedding.  Here's wishing the happy couple years and years of happiness...


Michael L said...

Loves your post.

I am actually surprised that they allowed you to take pics in their ancestry temples... No way that could happen in mine!

Peech said...

Michael L, this particular ancestral hall has been declared a monument by the government, and I believe it is open to the public.

Michael L said...

I see. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

How lucky you are to have a friend who is a native inhabitant. How lucky she is to have her family history preserved. My own family had a similar ancestral hall in Canton but it was destroyed and I have only heard about it and never saw it.
On the history of the Grandpa being ill treated by his own children during the cultural revolution, wasn't it in the 60's? If so how old was grandpa and his children then? I have only heard of destruction and betrayal by young red guards and not older people. What a tragic chapter in Chinese history!!


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