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A Moment in Life: Favorite Family Activity



          “Mom, here is the last question. No. 10. What kind of fun activities did you and your parents do together when you were a child? What was your favorite family activity?” My son interviewed me for his social study homework. He sat in front of the computer with his iPad nearby.

           Playing poker cards came to my mind immediately. “We played poker cards during holidays. We also ran in the morning before school for a while. But my favorite family activity was listening to the story on the radio at lunchtime.” My 12-year-old son quickly keyed in my answers on his cordless computer keyboard. Watching his finger type as fast as an elite pianist, my mind went back to the time almost 40 years ago, when refrigerator and air-conditioner weren’t in my vocabulary. 

It was an unprecedentedly hot summer. Liuzhou, an industrial city in southern China, suffered the worst drought in decades. Water could no longer be pumped to our home on the third floor. We had to fetch water in buckets from a shared faucet on the ground level. The fresh veggies that I used to dislike became a rare treat. Pickled cucumbers, dried long beans, preserved olives, salty fish, and salty eggs showed up on our dinning table more and more frequently. Every day my family had lunch together. Then we took an hour- long nap to escape the burning sun. Dad often complained about how hot the weather was when he came home for lunch.  My brother and sisters were always whining about the food. “When can we have some real food? We are sick of those pickles!” My younger brother frowned at the brownish dish and protested.

            Then one day Dad brought home a brand new radio. Our whole family was instantly hooked when the story time came on after the news and weather report.  Every day from 12:30 to 1pm, the radio would broadcast an episode of a long story. The narrator recreated vivid scenes and dialogs using his magic voice. Men and women, young or old, happy or sad, all seemed to be hiding inside the little rectangular box. Coming home from work, Mom cooked as fast as she could during the news time.  I set up the folding table and chairs. My brother took our only electric fan from bedroom to the kitchen. My two sisters put the chopsticks on the table and filled our bowls with white rice. The seamless teamwork was to ensure we could sit down in our tiny kitchen before the story time began.

           We ate our food quietly, not because Mom would remind us about good table manners, but because we were afraid that any slurping would make us miss something. Occasionally Mom was lucky enough to get some meat and greens on the table, but the good food didn’t stir the excitement as they used to. We all were so into the story that we cared less about what we ate, good or bad.

            We listened to a few heroic stories.  The lives of the people in the story deeply touched us. We had our ups and downs with them and experienced a full range of emotions. A few times the food sprayed out of our mouths like a volcano as we couldn't help laughing. There were times Mom sneakily wiped her tears and Dad just left the table and pretended to get another serving of steamed rice from the counter. 

One of our favorites was Romance of the Three Kingdoms, written by Luo Guanzhong during the 14th century. The historical war novel was set in the turbulent years towards the end of the Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms period from 169 CE to 280. The novel was full of historical, legendary, and mythical figures and stories. Many Chinese proverbs in use today were derived from the novel. I remembered one of the stories, called Borrowing Arrows Using Boats Filled with Straw Men (草船借箭). Zhou Yu was jealous of Zhuge Liang’s talent and saw him as a threat. He wanted to kill Zhuge Liang. Therefore, he assigned Zhuge Liang the task to make 100,000 arrows in ten days or face execution for failing his mission. Zhuge Liang, however, swore he would finish this seemingly impossible task in three days. Zhou Yu was secretly delighted.  On the third day, Zhuge Liang requested 20 large boats, each filled with a few soldiers and lots of human like figures made of straw and hays. Before dawn, in a dense fog, Zhuge Liang deployed the boats towards Cao Cao’s camp across the river. He ordered his soldiers to beat war drums and shout orders, to imitate the noise of an attack. Cao Cao’s soldiers, unable to see in the fog, fired many arrows towards the sound of the drums. The straw men were soon filled with arrows...

However, the narrator usually stopped the story when the protagonist was in a critical moment or some kind of danger, “ To find out what happened, please come back tomorrow.” “No!” We burst out with dismay after a quiet 30 minutes. “Why does he always stop at a place like that?” One of us asked almost daily. We craved for more. The fate of the protagonists and antagonists sucked us in.

“Today's eggs don't taste fresh, Mom. I can tell you added too much cooking wine.” Sometimes we started to complain about the food right after the story finished. But Mom would promptly change our focus by asking questions like these: “What do you think will happen next? What would you do if you were him? Do you think they will find her tomorrow?" If we all had different opinions or predictions, Dad would write down our guesses. The next day we would be eager to find out who was the winner.  If our guesses were on the right track, we would feel as proud as if we were the author of the story.

          When the long summer was over and the drought was relieved by badly needed rainfall, my brother, sisters and I went back to school a few inches taller, a little wiser, but best of all, with a new interest in appreciating story telling and literature, and a fond memory to last a lifetime.

          “What will you tell your children about your favorite family activity?” I asked my son.  “I don’t know yet. I am still a kid. ” He quickly clicked his wireless mouse and opened a new window on his computer. My story sounded as ancient as Romance of the Three Kingdoms to him. “What will be my children’s favorite family activity? What would I like them to remember and pass onto next generation? ” I wondered.







what a wonderful family you have!


what a wonderful family you have!


Thank you so much for reading my story and for all your volunteering work to promote writing.


Wonderful story and touching memories, indeed!

Reminds me of my younger son, who did similar interviews with us. He also wrote letters to grandma and uncle in China, asking same questions. Tender moments


Thank you so much for your kind comments.  Glad to know we share something in common. That assignment my son did was one of the most meaningful homework. He also interviewed his grandfather on the phone. I wish I had recorded their conversation. 

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