Looking at different branches of my family, it appeared to be a common practice in the past, the families in the city would hire their servants almost entirely from their own countryside. Job opportunity, trust worthy, same taste and tradition were the main reasons. Today Jiujiu looked at one of the pictures I put up on the Internet, remembered one of the men was Xiao Sanye 小三爷 young third grandfather – third cousin twice moved – he was a distant cousin of my great grandpa and was the third son in his family. He was the butler who managed the house as well as the serving staff. Occasionally, he would double up as secretary or body-guard. He ate with the family, not with the servants.
Butler was a cushy coveted position – they were like today’s secretary to the minister 秘书帮 with the soft power. They controlled the gate, directed the flow, decided who’s call the master would answer and whose audience the master would grant. The bribe from the callers who wanted/needed access to the master was hefty. When they retired, they usually let their sons to replace them. Every year Xiao Sanye led the 祭祖 procession that commemorate the ancestors. First 熏香 fumigate. After the phyical cleaning, came the fumigation. Heating up the 秤砣 scale weight in the stove and drop it into a big ladle full of aged vinegar. The red hot iron would create sizzle from the liquid. The steam was used in every room and every corners of the room, to repel away the odor. December 24 on lunar calendar was jiezu 接祖 day, receiving the ancestors and January 16 was the songzu 送祖 day, escorting the ancestors back to heaven. During this period, the ancestor’s paifang, inscribed board usually horizontal, or sometimes just a picture would be on display. I remembered being taken to the east wing at the Qinbaihu Hutong, bowing three times to the picture of great grand parents. I was like a little adventure, because that room in the east wing was off limit to me.