Requiem for a home

Weinan 2010-2017

The residential compound in which my grandma lived, in a provincial town just outside of Xi’an, was always a source of comfort for me. I would visit it almost every school holidays, and even after we emigrated out of the country, it was somewhere I felt compelled to come back to regularly.

The demolition was completed in 2017.

My grandparents moved in in the 70s, after it was newly built; the conditions of the houses became extremely run down over the years, and most of the children of the elder residents who still lived there were glad that the demolition was finally happening.

Knowing that it would be my last visit, I wanted to soak up every inch of the home: the creeking metal door frame, the glare from the incadescent bulb, the patches of broken paint on the wall, the smell of detergent, incense sticks, and rice vinegar, the sound of qin-qiang (秦腔) from the TV, the way the plastic door curtains would fall on you as you entered...

The flat was modest in size, less than 60 meters squared.

Somehow it managed to raise a family with 4 children, and sleep about 7-8 people during Chinese New Year.

The compound (铁中家属院) was built next to the old train station, to house the people who worked on the railway.

It housed around 200 families, in 3 storey flats, unheard of by today’s monolithic building designs.

Back then, it was the major housing estate in the town, and was frequented by all sorts of tradesmen: farmers, handymen, second hand goods collectors, and swindlers.

I would often be woken by the call of the guy selling soy sauce and vinegar in the morning.


Cousin, grandma and I 1994

The sense of community was extremely strong, mostly due to the size of the compound, and that everyone who lived there was somehow associated with the railway: everyone knew everyone.

In the humid summers, there would always be a game of ma-jiang(麻将)laid out on a stone table, underneath the canape of the sycamore trees. 

Grandad 1993

After the railroads were moved to the opposite side of town, new housing developments began on the tracks. 

Some families started to move out, others died of old age.

I remember one summer I came back to visit, the road outside the compound with small shops and restaurats was dug up, all the businesses relocated.

For my grandma, the change felt more gradual.

She had received a stipend for the relocation, and appeared to be excited about the move to a bigger, newer flat.

After all, she is from a generation where material wealth matters more than sentimental values.

For her, the past represents hardship, struggle, and sorrow, so it makes sense to look forward.

For me, the
feeling of warmth of the home will endure for a long time.

Her new residence 2017