I think no one has the experience I made during our stay at Bens place in his hometown. It is a bizarre story and really should stay indoors.
When we were in (??.) there was no electricity in the house. No matter of course, in a way it is quite romantic and after all we supposed to stay over for just one night. Ben found some candles in the house and a lighter so we would have no problems finding our way in the dark.
We went to sleep early: it got dark, no streetlights along the road, no cars crossing by. The only sound you here are some frogs and some late birds. A wonderful peaceful night.
I have to pee. Outside in the dark. So I take the lighter and I go down the stairs and walk to the backyard. So far so good. Of course by doing a pee you need no light, so I put the lighter off. I open my zipper and pull my dick out of my trousers. But, stupid me, I still have the heat lighter in my hand! This is the first time I burned the glans of my little willie.
02 The shower.
After three days the fever finally disappeared! Hurray! I really feel better now. Time to take a shower. I didn?t take a shower all these days, because I was afraid that the cold would become worse by doing this. At the house of Bens family in (?..) where we stay overnight on our way back to Xiamen, the shower doesn?t work. So they boil four big cans of water for us. I wash myself sitting in a red plastic tub and I pour water over myself. There is one green tub for the hands, a yellow one for the feet. It is a great sensation and after the bath I feel very comfortable and reborn.
In the country where I live every house has at least one shower, with hot and cold running water. Some houses even have a big bathtub and a shower. Thereby: you can use the cold water from the tap always and everywhere as drinking water.
03 The fish.
We are walking at the countryside with Bens mother, grandmother, aunts and nieces. The women want to pick young bamboo shoots. Ben and I we take a look at a few fishermen sitting at a small lake. The men already caught some fish. At once we see a small tiny fish laying in the sand. It is still alive. But too small to eat, so useless. Ben grabs the small fish in his hands and throws it back into the water.
When I was young the whole family on Sunday went for a day out to a little village at the river Maas. My father liked fishing. I was not that son who likes to catch fish or who likes to play soccer.
Painting the story about the fish it reminds me of the little sculpture a Dutch friend artist made: a small boy in bronze carrying a huge fish in his hands.
04 The funeral.
Someone passed away in Bens family. At the moment the corpse should be brought to his last place of rest, we are invited to be there too. It turns out to be a great spectacle: with a lot of ballyhoo of the countless fireworks, the brass band playing the proper funeral music and in advance sixteen dishes to eat before we leave for the funeral march. Ben does a little ceremony: he wears a kind of white cotton cloth draped from his head. He doesn?t really know what to do and what it is for but that doesn?t matter at all. ?We do what we have to do but also we do it in our own way?.
In my homeland young people often refuse to do these traditional things. It also seems older people have forgotten them or don?t want to be remembered at. We always want to understand what we are doing, there always has to be ?a reason why?. Our funerals usually take place in silence and people are dressed in black.
05 The bread.
The first day of our trip to the countryside, sitting in the train I felt really miserable: 18 hours just sitting! When I look around me I am very surprised about the fact that all passengers sit there and show no complain at all. The trip takes time, they know of course and after all what else can you do than just sit and wait until the journey is over. You have to go through. Suddenly a man sitting opposite of me takes his bag and pulls out a large white bread. He starts to eat and doesn?t stop eating until the whole bread disappeared in his stomach. Amazing!
We in Holland, we never eat bread like this. We cut slices and spread them with butter and marmalade, or honey. We eat sandwiches with cheese or meat. For God sake the man ate the bread with his bare hands. At the Starbucks in Xiamen people use plastic gloves while eating their sandwiches.
After the 18 hours train Ben and his mother are astonished that I spent the whole trip without going to the toilet. By the way, going from the upper north to the deep south in the Netherlands takes less than four hours.
06/07 The bed.
The first night after 18 hours train we sleep at the apartment of Bens grandmother in (?..). There is nobody at home, they are all gone to the funeral ceremonies in a little village abroad. The apartment looks great and the walls are recently fresh whitened. And there is a lit of light! Like a disco. We have the luxury of each one a sleeping room with a big bed for each of us. Next day the house will be crowded. After the funeral everyone comes to grandma?s house. No idea who is who, which relation they have to each other: grandma, mama, aunt, niece, cousin, just friends? While I still feel very sick I have no energy to ask Ben. As evening comes they decide Ben and I should share room and bed. The cousin makes everything ready for the night: two blankets, to pillows, placed ?head to feet?. The other days we sleep together under one blanket, which turned out to be really hot.
For me this is an unknown experience. I always sleep on my own, alone in my bed. Since I was a child I have my own private sleeping room and I still I have. Sharing the bed for me has to do with ?being married? or ?making love?. I am a little bit afraid of being so close to each other and don?t know what to do when someone in his sleep creeps close to me. In a way it feels uncomfortable, at the other site it is very cozy. Looking at the painting I made: don?t think Ben and I were that close in our bed.
08 The mandarins.
I didn?t buy anything to eat during our train trip to the countryside. Feeling so sick I am able to just take a taxi to the railway station. Ben and his mother, who is travelling with us, of course did. Sitting in that train and feeling miserable and worrying about if I would survive this trip suddenly I really needed ?vitamins?. The pills I bought in Xiamen didn?t work at all, fever is raising. A woman passes by with on her trolley a lot of fruit for sale. ?I need some mandarins!? I almost shout out. Ben has no idea what I mean, what is that, mandarins? But I insist and buy a package of mandarins. After that I feel relieved. Now I soon will be healthy again. The mandarins are of a bad quality. Ben doesn?t eat, mother just a half one. I bravely eat them all, of course.
Later when we are in the city of grandma. Ben buys some pills that are good against the fever. On the market I see a man who sells a huge amount of mandarins. His shop is filled to the rafters with mandarins, so you can?t hardly find the man himself. He doesn?t look as if he wants to sell the mandarins, he is just sitting and watching.
09 The music.
It is a hot day, Ben and I walk around the little streets of his hometown. Somewhere on the side of the road we sit down to get rest in the shadow. Ben has a blackberry and we listen to some music. Suddenly he asks me why I'm divorced. "Because I fell in love with a man?. "You never told me?, Ben says mildly surprised and somewhat confused. Well for me that looks quite normal when you are gay, but for Ben it seems to be not that simple. Gay means feminine, or something with fashion. And that?s not me. So how to recognize a gay man? Ben thinks that a son his gay sexuality will hide for the family. He will go to live in the big city and disappear. Or he will marry and live an ordinary life.
When I was young in my own province town there also lived a notorious gay couple. Two men who behave ostentatiously and spoke affectedly with female mannerisms. At the age of 12 I new already that I was gay and I always had those two man as bad exemplary figures : I never, never would become like them! Nowadays in my country like a man can marry a woman, a man can marry a man and a woman can marry a woman legally.
Songs Ben and I also listened to: The Beatles ?All you need is love?, Elton John ?Your song?, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros ?Home?.
10 The school.
I have seen a lot of schools during this trip. Kindergarten, primary schools and secondary schools. Ben showed me the schools he visited as a boy. I was amazed and somewhat shocked. Schools as big as small factories and al lot of students. The classrooms are overcrowded. Students sit the whole day in the same classroom, their desks overloaded with books. You can hardly see them sitting behind the stacks of books and notebooks. And a mass! 'A pigsty', we would say in the Netherlands. No way the school inspection would agree to this. I wonder how students can learn in such circumstances. Thereby they have to go to school from morning until in the evening. And they have to learn hard. No wonder that after secondary school students get lazy and don?t want to study anymore: they are "death studied?.
For me the school interior also has a unprecedented beauty. I love places that are as good as decrepit, where life left behind his visible traces. Where the history is palpable.
Ben talks a lot. He loves to tell me about his past. He wants to give me information about traditional country live. For example: in the small villages there are many recently build new big houses, completely furnished but vacant throughout the year. At the time of spring festival the whole family from all over China comes together in that house and the have days of festivities, eating, drinking, playing games and making jokes. Grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces and so on. They haven?t seen each other for months, sometimes for a year. Children who raise by their grandparents, parents who look after the children of their kids.
One day Ben will go back to his hometown. Also his family will. They will all live together in that big house, calm and relaxed. Away from the impersonal hectic life in the cities. Like it was in older times. Ben sais.
I wonder where my home is. Is it the place where I?m born? My grandparents and parents died. I have three sisters; only one of them I see more or less frequently. I am divorced. My ex wife lives in Switzerland. My daughter studies in another city. I have a beautiful building where is my house and my studio. I live on my own. Home is where the heart is.
12 Rice pudding.
When we are at Ben?s hometown there is nothing in the house to eat. And in that little town there are no shops. But no problem: within half an hour almost every citizen invited us for dinner at their homes. Ben tells me Chinese people say as a greeting ?Have you eaten?? instead of our ?How are you??. I also learn that you have to be careful by saying yes. Because there are preferences. You could insult one by going to diner with the other. So be aware you keep peace in town. Well for me, I know, I would go for dinner with the old teacher, or with the woman of 90 years who walks around as if she was 60. But no. Suddenly Ben surprises me ?The neighbours have asked us for dinner, she made rice pudding?. Oh my God! Rice pudding! I hate pudding. Although I believe I have never in my life eaten pudding. As a child I refused and, spoiled as I am, my mother made me something else to eat. So please? But in China I have eaten more things I never ever should eat in my own country, so let?s go. That the pudding is delicious, is too much said. It?s good and there are also delicious vegetables and roasted nuts. But most of all I enjoy the way the neighbours succeeds in eating such a pudding with only two chopsticks. Amazing! In no time ?sssshhhhlp, sssshhhhlp? and the pudding is all. I can?t do it like that, in my cup at the end there is only rice water. The rice I could pick up with the sticks, but I really canę bring the cup to my mouth and do a ?sssshhhhlp, sssshhhhlp?. Ben tells me to be a ?Roman under the Romans?, but preferred to act like a foreign guest than as a Chinese between the Chineses.
The parents-in-law of Bens eldest brother take care of the brothers little baby child. Also their youngest son of eighteen is living in the house. To the walking cart of this baby child hangs a small plastic bottle. The grandmother shows the little child how blowing into the opening sound emerges from that same bottle, like it is a kind of flute. For me I find it a bit in common, because a child of that age can never do something like that. I already noticed before how little toys for children there are in the homes. Sometimes I see children outside playing with self made toys: a football made of newspapers, a seesaw made of some warped wood, or toys made of old plastic bottles to play with water. However, even the most modest house seems to have a computer and a PlayStation.
When Ben talks, he talks a lot. Because he wants to tell everything what comes up in his mind. Thereby he has a big imagination and he has a lot of subjects to talk about. His thoughts go in all directions and in his enthusiasm he links themes together which at first sight have nothing to do with each other. More than ones he loses the threat of the story he started to tell. We found a solution for that: when Ben again threatens to lose in his story again, I say ?Focus, Ben!?.
Pills are an important thing in my life: since I was young I always have taken pills, because of my asthma. It has become a kind of addiction. Sometimes I get nervous only by knowing the medicines are almost on. And here, far away from home all medicines are totally different from the ones I know. And how to describe in poor English to a Chinese saleswoman what for I need the medicines!
16 The snake.
We saw a snake! And belief me, it was a big one. In Ben?s hometown, the day we arrived. Next day we went to walk through ?the wild nature? Ben took a branch and while walking he beated along with it into the grass in front of him. To frighten the snakes. I was walking behind and thought ?maybe I should do the same?. So I found a nice branch and beated into the grass. But I felt a kind of clumsy and if what I was doing didn?t make any sense at all. So I threw away the branch and I trusted all over again for the umpteenth time on my guardian angel.
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