Recently I posted a few pictures and videos on my facebook, complaining about the weekly/daily banquets held by my neigbors.
Today, I was invited to another one. So, out of the occasion I thought it is time to share this experience with my readers. I am wondering the whole time if I am weird, ungrateful, spoilt or something? But let’s start from the beginning…
The time I still liked Zuozhuo
The term Zuozhuo 坐桌, literally means ‘to sit at a table’. I have not found it in a dictionary yet, and even google does not explain the real meaning of this term.
A few years ago, when I first visited my in-laws, my mother-in-law would on random occasions ask me if I would want to zuozhuo. My Chinese was not really good at that time, and I always wanted to make a good impression, so I would just smile and nod. Of course, I want to take part in it. Whatever ‘it’ is.
And the thing is: I actually liked it. I thought it was so interesting, and I felt honoured to be part of such a gathering. Zuozhuo is nothing else than a big feast, a banquet. Usually held if someone gets married, is about to get married, has gotten married, has a baby, is about to have a baby, has had a baby, the baby is one month old, the baby is 100 days old, birthdays (especially 3 years, 12 years, and older), or someone has died… So, with the amount of people getting married in this village, and consequently having babies, you can do ‘zuozhuo’ every day. If you want to.
All those years I kinda enjoyed it. The dirt and the horrible table manners of everyone else didn’t bother me. It felt like being free. You could just throw your trash on the floor, spit the bones on the table. Food was abundant, and I was just impressed by the amount of dishes…
People were very welcoming. Everyone wanted me to be sitting at their table. Baijiu (the Chinese wine) was flowing in liters, and maybe my brain was dulled by the alcohol, but I really liked being there… It’s a gathering of people, and everyone seemed so relaxed and happy.
When things started to change…
I don’t remember a date or exact time when it changed. I guess it happened gradually. But after a few years, I started to dislike every zuo zhuo opportunity. I tried to find excuses why I couldn’t go.
All of a sudden I started to pay attention to other details. The dirt and the spitting started to bother me. I felt disgusted by the amount of babies and children peeing and pooing next to the eating table. Even the food started to taste different. When I liked all the different dishes, all of a sudden I felt repulsed by the view of a pigs head.
This year I started thinking about it consciously. I still went to some of the banquets, trying to see if it’s just my brain playing tricks. I mean, the people are still very welcoming, even more now since they consider me part of the clan, but no matter how friendly and considered they are, I felt very out of place.
All of a sudden I started to hear my mother in my ear; telling me “sit straight when you eat!”, “Don’t put your elbows on the table!”, “And for god’s sake, don’t spit your food on the floor!”
I got very self-conscious, and started to realize how wrong everything felt. I wished I was sitting at a clean table, with people who would not eat like starved dogs… and at the same time I felt very guilty for having those thoughts. After all they all were nice people…
A late culture shock, maybe?
So, what is wrong with me? Why, all of a sudden, started I hating these gatherings? Am I a spoilt brad who cannot appreciate the friendly gesture of the people around me, cannot appreciate a nice banquet? Maybe. And maybe it really is a late culture shock or maybe I just grow up and realized I don’t have to except everything just so I can please everyone. People have started talking badly about me in Niuji village. Saying I am a spoilt foreigner who feels too special to join them in their zuozhuo.
Sometimes I feel like defending myself and explaining my feelings, but they wouldn’t understand anyway. Most of the people here have been living here all their life. They have never left the confinement of Niuji village. They don’t understand that someone might dislike the way they behave, the way they gather, the way they eat… and I am not here to change them, I just don’t want to take part in it anymore.
It just doesn’t feel right anymore.
Has anyone else experienced something similar? How do you deal with it? Should you just swallow it and adapt no matter the cost?
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