XuJie invited me to the home of a Mr. Zhang during our 2015 GuoQingJie break. I was picked up at Wukesong station in an economy car driven by a journalist from Science and Technology news, whose name I now forget. At some point during the ride to the north suburbs, the talk turned to religion and churchgoing, which does not happen often in a group of Chinese. They must have been picking my brain, me being an American. I soon gathered I was the least religious person in the car. When we got there, after maneuvering the car into a parking space under cramped circumstances in the residential community, we were invited inside, with nice rattan slippers for everyone. Now that’s always the sign of a tony Beijing household. Duplex with nice leather furniture, a cute, quiet little girl, and the host himself, a man slightly my senior, friendly and easy, and his wife, quick to bring out some tea and fruit. My hangover didn’t stand a chance.
Xu and I played through the first movement of Beethoven’s Spring sonata, and it went pretty well. Mr. Zhang liked all the Romantic heavy hitters, and at times I had trouble adjusting to his… adventurous tempos. But who doesn’t like a dedicated amateur musician? We all sounded good and had a great time. Afterwards there was a great dinner, conversation, the usual questions as to my marital status, and at one point back in the living room when the hosts were clearing up the table, Xu intimated that they had lost a first child, after which they started again with the girl. Before I heard this I had detected no trace of tragedy in the household, though the couple seemed a bit on the old side for such a young daughter. Having been told of the girl, I brought her a book, and she accepted it without expression, quizzically. It’s impossible for me to hear such a story without thinking of my own family, and the years of adjustment to my brother’s death. Or refusal to adjust? I still don’t know, twenty years later.