We recently had a few days holiday and I decided to go on a little cycle trip. I picked a point on the map, a lake in the west, and started heading towards it – I didn't get far.
About sixtey kilometers from the city I live in, as I was leaving another city called DengZhou, I met a guy called Shao Shan (Little mountain), who was ridding his scooter back home. We travelled together for a while and seemed to get on well. For a start he spoke “proper” chinese, rather than the local language that I still struggle to understand. I think as well the fact that he had spent so much time away from his home gave us some things in common to talk about.
He invited me back to stay with his family for the night and I got to take a trip out in to the Chinese countryside. It was a nice experience, as not only did I get to see a part of Chinese life that few make contact with, but also I had someone who could explain it to me as well.
Now at that time it was the grave sweeping festival and I went with Shao Shan to see his grandmother's grave: a large mound, about a meter or so high in the middle of a maize field. He tapped some money on to large blocks of paper, which he then set light to (the paper not the money), before kowtowing to the mound serval times. The cermony was finshed after he set off a line of firecrackers. Shao Shan told me much about his grandmother, the woman who had raised him for the most part and I couldn't help but be reminded of my own Nana.
My Nana, as we called her, was not really our relation. She was an odler woman who had been a close friend of my mothers for a long time. I think they may even have been novice nuns at the same time, though I can't be sure. Nana looked after us a lot, we went to her house every day after school for dinner and she looked after us in exactly the same way a grandmother would.
I'm not sure why, perhaps because we were older, perhaps she just missed her home, but at some point Nana returned her real family in Shropshire, somewhere on the border with Wales. Despite all she had done for me, I didn't keep in touch anywhere near as much as should have done, just a phone call now and again, and I'm embarrssed to think how much I took her for granted.
It was maybe about a year after I learned to drive that I decided I should try to go down and visit Nana. I called her up and made some vague plans to go and see her after my exams – it never happened. I can't remember why exactly, it was just one of those things that I kept putting off and putting off, maybe there was a good excuse - probably there wasn't.
I eventualy made it down to Nana's home in time for the funeral and, even today, I still feel shame for never having repaid the kindness that she showed to me and my family. But my vist to Shao Shan's grandmother's grave made me realise that I never learned my lesson from Nana's death. I am still as selfish and still forget to show thanks to those in my life who have always been there for me.
Why show respect for the dead, when we don't show respect for the living?