“Your grandpa used to love sitting in this exact spot to watch TV and slept in that room over there,” my uncle told me, seated on the armchair facing toward the TV. “And he loved walking down this street to go eat his favorite dish at the restaurant that’s closed now.”
“Really?” I responded in one of the few Cantonese phrases I was confident in saying. “I didn’t know…”
“He would always stay here whenever he came back to China,” he added, as I suddenly saw his apartment on the 23rd floor in an entirely different way.
A few days earlier while walking in Zhujiang New Town with my aunt, she remarked, “You walk just like your grandmother.”
Weeks before when I had first arrived in Guangzhou, we visited her daughter’s apartment. She told me, “Your grandpa used to love this area. He wanted to buy an apartment here but your grandma didn’t want to come back.”
That became one of the first of many moments in which my relatives would tell stories like these, revealing yet another part of my grandparents’ life back in their hometown.
But it was the moment last night when my uncle was sitting in the armchair I remember sitting in the first time I visited the apartment a few weeks ago that affected me the most.
I could see my grandpa in his younger, happier, healthier days, seated with a smile on his face in that armchair. I could see him walking down the very street I now walk on.
My grandpa passed away when I was a freshman in college, a year after my grandma. Despite them living with us, I never felt that close with them. To this day, I feel tremendous regret for not making more of an effort to spend time with them. Get to know them. Especially after my grandma passed away. Memories that kept haunting me were those of me being childishly annoyed rather than appreciative of my grandma.
So when I found my grandpa drugged on morphine in the hospice but still with a smile on his face, I couldn’t hold back my tears. Maybe the guilt had something to do with how overwhelmed I felt at that moment. Failing to avoid letting him see me cry, I rushed out of the room, as my dad quickly followed and stood beside me as I cried. The memory remains so lucid.
Now that I’m living where my family had lived, walking the same streets they have walked on, talking to the same people they’ve grown up with, it feels like they’ve never left. Despite being thousands of miles away, I’ve realized that I’m never really far from home, my grandparents, my parents.
In fact I’m closer than ever.
I never got that chance to ask my grandparents more about their lives, but I guess I don’t really need to now.
Every day here I am learning.