Story of Village Hall
The village hall served two functions for the village. First, it’s a place to commemorate the deceased and to celebrate the newlyweds through lavish banquets. Second, it’s a place that held theatrical performances, the only entertainment before the advent of TV.
When a lavish banquet was put in place at the village hall, families, relatives & friends were invariably invited. When “special grandma” or my parents were invited, I tagged along for a rare occasion of food immersion. Only in such occasions were foods served in NUMEROUS courses, and every food can be found as a dazzling array of dishes were presented on a great number of tables.
The selection of foods far out-shined the foods available in the market, which was no more than a narrow street flanking the village hall on its front. For me, it was a moment to dig in a greatest display of local cuisine for free.
For those invitees, they’d contribute some money to the newlyweds. These contributions can be in the form of jewelry, or cash folded in a red envelope. The “red envelope money” has been given as a blessing for the successful union of the two newlyweds. Now, examining this tradition in retrospect, I see it also as a method to resource pooling for the needy. Newlyweds face expenditures for various reasons, and pooling money from local villagers mean they can steer their way out of tough waves ahead. Perhaps this is the origin of the “red envelope” tradition, but it’s an educated guess.
Since food was scarce, leftovers were not wasted. It was not a strange occurrence for invitees to bring red plastic buckets to banquets. After the banquet, among other villagers, “special grandma” (who raised me when I was little) would collect the leftover from each table into red buckets. It’s exceedingly difficult to find an image of banquet leftovers. I recall “special grandma” reheating leftover in a stew on a coal stove in the backyard, and served everyone in the household. One scoop from the stew I got slices of carrots, and the next scoop I got turtle meat, and one time I found a bee in the stew! 🙂 Banquet leftovers are still collected in this region of China nowadays.
Then there’s the theatrical role of the village hall. The room in the back of the village hall served both as a kitchen at times of banquets, as well as a backstage at times of operas. Grandparents were loyal fans of local operas, and attended whenever they have a chance.
There’re limited chairs in the village hall for the hordes of audiences, so grandparents always brought their own bamboo chairs, until the days of TV.