Roots and Branches

Courtney Han visits her ancestral home in China

My Dad grew up in a small fishing village about two hours northwest of Shanghai. His stories about his hometown sound more like Mount Olympus than a poor Chinese village with a flooding problem. According to him, nowhere else in the universe was the air as sweet, the trees as lush and the jade-toned water as beautiful as in the laojia.

I was born in Beijing, where my mother’s family lived, and moved to the US when I was five. My father’s experiences growing up in rural China were as different from my American childhood as a fish from a bird’s. His colorful stories about playing midnight hide-and-seek in fields, yanking river eels out of mud holes, climbing trees to peek at bird nests – they never happened on my visits to China. Instead I was coddled, stuffed with exotic foods, and kept under strict observation.