By LIU XINWU
HERE is a typical “4-2-1” family, with four grandparents in retirement, a middle-aged couple, and their only child, Ruirui, a middle school student.
A year ago, they decided to start having a special family reunion three times a year, each with its own theme. Last year’s themes were “No Vehicle Day,” “No TV Day,” and “No Phones Day.”
On “No Vehicle Day” the whole family walked to an art gallery to see an exhibition. The round trip was about eight kilometers. Although three of the four grandparents complained with smiling faces that Ruirui walked too fast – the girl frequently raced ahead, bouncing back to tug her grandparents’ arms and hurry them along – everybody had a wonderful time.
On “No TV Day,” nobody turned on the TV, the computer or the radio. Instead they read books, played chess, made papercuts and improved recipes. Ruirui wrote a poem and she proudly read it to everyone after dinner.
The “No Phones Day” was tough for Ruirui. She pouted and asked: “If I can’t make a phone call, can I at least send texts?” The next day, friends of the family called to ask why they hadn’t been able to reach them on the phone, but everybody agreed that things still went very smoothly without phones. Ruirui read her diary entry from the previous day, which said: “I realize that as well as making time for my friends, I should also have some time to myself.”
This year, the family had their reunion on the sixth day of the Golden Week holiday in China (which refers to the 7-day national holiday for the National Day and Chinese New Year). The theme was “No Money Day.”
How can people avoid things related to money? While choosing the theme, Ruirui’s parental grandfather had an argument on the phone with Ruirui’s maternal grandfather. It all started because of a question raised by Ruirui: “Are stockbrokers laborers?” The two grandfathers couldn’t agree on an answer to this question. One said stockbroking is just legitimate speculation, while the other argued that many private investors are actually retired or laid-off workers. These workers have invested a lot of time and money in the stock market and have contributed to national economic development. They are hard workers.
The two grandmothers were not interested in the argument and instead discussed a kidnapping they had heard about on the news. They concluded that the kidnappers only wanted money. Ruirui’s parents were discussing something in an undertone. Ruirui walked away. She didn’t want to eavesdrop, but she knew that they were estimating how much of their mortgage they still owed on their apartment. They were also discussing the fuel consumption of their car. Ruirui liked the theme of “no money day” very much. “What are we going to talk about on that day?” she asked.
The parental grandfather suggested talking about wonderful family memories which were completely unrelated to earning or spending money. The maternal grandma pointed out that this ruled out talking about birthday gifts, travels, or even wedding photos, because all these things cost money. The mother said she didn’t want to talk about emotional memories. She said that after a long day at work she felt too tired and didn’t want to be reminded of anything that would make her cry.
Ruirui’s father was the first to share a story. “When Ruirui was three-year-old,” he said, “we went to catch a bus. It was so crowded that we had to push our way onto the bus, and I failed to get on. I managed to get another bus later on and met them at our destination. When I got off, I saw my wife holding my daughter’s hand while they waited for me. When Ruirui spotted me she was so happy that she started jumping up and down, clapping her hands. I noticed her eyes were glowing and that was really beautiful. In that moment I realized that my wife and daughter have a very special relationship with me and that we would be together for the rest of my life.”
Ruirui’s mother smiled, but said she couldn’t remember that at all. Instead she shared a different memory. “One night I was taking a shower. Suddenly there was a power cut. I was scared, but also annoyed as I was covered in soap suds. Before I had even had time to scream, my husband appeared in the bathroom holding a lighter. He told me not to worry and that he would light some candles.” The picture of her husband’s face, half in light and half in shadow as he held the lighter, was her most beautiful memory.
The parental grandmother remembered one time the family had dinner together at a restaurant. “I don’t know why,” she said, “but these two [Ruirui’s parents] kept looking at each other, winking and secretly signaling to each other just like little children. They were adults already, busy with work, earning money and managing their social responsibilities – but with the family they were completely relaxed, acting like kids. That’s the most beautiful scene I can think of.”
“Why have I never seen that?” asked Ruirui.
The family continued to share their memories of beautiful moments that had nothing to do with money.
At the end of “No Money Day,” Ruirui thought as she got into bed: There are so many things that are more precious than money. She slept tight with the knowledge that she was lucky to be born into such a loving family.