My first thought at breakfast in Yongding was that the teacups were too small. Each time we took a sip, they had to be refilled. Our host, Mr. Li, didn’t seem to mind, but we felt like a bother and wondered why a people would ever design their cups to hold only one sip at a time.
Spending a few days with the Hakka people was one of the coolest experiences of my life. Mr. Li (Nate’s previous contact) showed us around town and introduced us to his family. The mysterious giant octagonal, square, circular, and triangular Earth Buildings we saw from a distance on the motorcycles the first day are actually homes where family clans have lived for generations. Inside, bedroom corridors line the walls and center around the main ancestral hall. This hall is actually a central area designed to support all types of family gatherings- weddings, banquets, funerals, and even entertaining guests.
Our meals here were like eating with family. Mr. Li wanted to hear all about what was going on in our lives. I told him about University life in America and showed him Texas on a map. He smiled, “Yao Ming plays there!” His older brother showed us how to kill a fish with the handle of a knife and his sister-in-law gave us a tour of their vegetable garden. I thought seeing their vegetables up close was interesting because Yongding's main industry is agriculture. Its mountainous landscape is a collage of tiered tobacco, carrot, bamboo, and rice fields with personal gardens creeping into almost every backyard. At dinner we drank a sweet long-grain rice beer that Mr. Li makes at home for their restaurant. I told him that in the U.S. I’m still too young too drink alcohol. He said, "Don't worry, it’s not too strong.” Right...
Just like their homes suggest, family is central to the Hakka culture. Serving others and making guests feel welcome is a priority, a meal just another opportunity to show they care. After spending a few days with the Hakka people, I understood their teacups. Sure mine was tiny, but it was always full. Refilling it again and again was just another way Mr. Li let me know that he was attending to every detail and not to worry about a thing.