So one week with the in-laws, most of that time without lzh's presence.... It was good, and not just because I could kick back and relax in clean air drinking tea made from water that can be drunk straight out of the tap and generally just relaxing in good, clean rural peace and quiet.
For one thing, it was good because I had to communicate directly with my parents-in-law without lzh to fall back on for translation between Putonghua and Yanqinghua. Yanqinghua isn't really such a big, huge, scary dialect. I mean, it's not Cantonese. It's closely related to all the other dialects of north China. It's just that, like all the other dialects of north China, it has its own accent and rhythm and speech patterns, and although much of its vocabulary is common to north and northeast Chinese dialects, it has its own particular mix and a few unique words. It's just another northern Chinese dialect, in other words. Not so hard to get used to. But still, it's different enough that the differences can really knock you for six, sometimes. But it's not for purely linguistic reasons that having to communicate directly with no lzh to fall back on was a good thing....
And some of the conversations were great. For one thing, I've read plenty of books and articles and websites and what have you about Chinese history, but there I was sitting and talking to real Chinese history. The history represented by actual people who have direct knowledge of the events in question, or who have stories that have been passed down through the generations. I'm talking about flesh being put on the bones of history that I have learned.
One example: A couple of nights ago the conversation turned to the war, with the usual things being said about Japan. Then Ba told me that during the war, just five li (2.5 km) down the road (he was pointing eastwards) an entire village was slaughtered by the Japanese. The entire village, men, women, children, the whole lot massacred. You know, that 三光 thing the Japanese did. The next morning he repeated the story and added that the Japanese fed the bodies to the dogs.
It was also good sitting with Ma and Ba watching 水浒传 or 井冈山 in the evenings, with Ma and Ba filling me in on all the details that I would've missed never having read the book or being less familiar with the history.
So it was a great experience. And it seemed Ma really didn't want me to leave. And to be honest, I could've quite happily stayed up there if, of course, reality wouldn't keep intervening.