real chinese grandmas

The real chinese grandmas

26 July 2010

The real chinese grandmas I know lived lives of courage, strength and tenacity. They raised children in wartime and left their homes to protect their families. They focused relentlessly on the future but never forgot where they came from. And despite hard lives of war and poverty, they maintained their good humor, compassion and humanity.

First are my real grandmas, pictured above in Korea, 1968. They were survivors. Born in the Shandong province of northern China, they fled China for Korea with their families before the Communist takeover in the 1949 (their husbands were already living in Korea in search of jobs). They lived and raised their children in Chinese immigrant shantytowns, and when the Korean War began in 1950, they continued their migration south to distance themselves from the war front. They struggled to get their children to the United States, and their children eventually were able to bring them over for their twilight years.

Sadly, my mom’s mom (above right) lived only three years after coming to the U.S. and died when I was four. My dad’s mom (above left), already widowed, came the year before I was born, lived with my family for 24 years and died at age 94. She was a small and lively person, who walked daily despite her crippled feet (bound when she was a young girl). She gardened, cooked her own meals and talked to us kids at length, even though regrettably our knowledge of Chinese never progressed much past preschool vocabulary. She was beyond frugal and kept every scrap of paper, every rubber band, thinking of its potential utility. My parents had quite a job cleaning her room when she died.

My mom is the modern chinese grandma. She was the bright middle child of five siblings and made sure she was top in her class every year of school, the reward being free tuition. She came alone to the U.S. at 17 for college, knowing no one and speaking no English. She majored in chemistry so she wouldn’t have to take any English courses, and switched to math when she couldn’t afford to pay for the beakers she kept breaking in lab. My mom worked as a math teacher for 35 years and was able to bring her parents and all but one of her siblings to the U.S. My mom is full of energy, joy and gratitude.

Finally there are my closest friends – chinese grandmas at heart. Chinese and not, we come from the tradition of practicality, frugality, resourcefulness, hard work. We are achievement-oriented but love to save our paychecks for the freedom and security that comes from money in the bank. We spend on what’s important to us, and we are sticklers for quality. We are curious about the world and love travel. We love home cooking from all cultures. We have an expansive definition of family (my kids have more aunties than they can keep track of). We share truth – the good, the bad, the boring. We are together for the long haul.

This site is for aspiring chinese grandmas everywhere, in honor of the real grandmas – of all cultures – from whom we came.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Kiyuu 11 October 2011 at 11:08 pm

Oh wow, your site is very inspiring; I came here via googling ‘chinese oatmeal,’ haha, I’ve got to try some of those ideas. I’m commenting because I saw a connexion between both our grandparents, which was pretty interesting. My paternal grandparents were both from Shandong, and fled during the revolution. My grandfather, to Japan, for education, then Taiwan, and my Grandmother’s family to Korea (they lived there and China equally, anyway, so the transition was fairly easy) and then fled again, to Taiwan! Anyway, I know the point of your about post wasn’t this, but I couldn’t resist keeping my mouth shut~


cg 24 October 2011 at 8:09 am

hi kiyuu, thank you so much for coming by! i am behind on my responses lately. but i really appreciated your note. love that you also come from shandonren! that is great. thank you so much for sharing your story.


sharline evans 23 December 2011 at 5:00 pm

I love your site so much that I look forward everyday to the most beautiful photos and wonderful illustrations you provide. I am a photographer and foodie and I can spend all of my day just reading through recipes. I would love to go to culinary school but at 69…just had a birthday on the 18th….I would just love to learn about mostly beautiful presentations….I think presentation is like a lovely photograph…You are amazing….and your recipes are so beautiful….I admire the effort you have spent on this site and I want thank you for opening up a whole new world to me…i.e. bloggers…..thank you for sharing your life, your love of food and your genuine spirit.


cg 24 December 2011 at 12:20 am

sharline – thank you for the very kind words! and a very happy birthday to you. =)


Judith Robinson 2 March 2013 at 5:47 am

Hello from me in Ireland. Are you still functioning, hope you are. I have just come across your website and find it really really interesting.
Please let me know if it still extant!
Many thanks


cg 4 March 2013 at 4:48 pm

hi judith – yes, still plugging here and loving it! hello to your green isle, i was there once and still think of it fondly as i enjoy my barry’s tea and kerrygold butter here in the states. =)


Amy 16 July 2013 at 9:19 pm

What a gem of a site! I think I’ll stick around for sometime. πŸ™‚


AliceK 21 August 2013 at 9:16 pm

Wow, so glad that I stumbled upon this site trying to look for steamed egg cake recipe. I love reading your story about your grandmothers. I immigrated to the US when I was 9 and it has been over 40 years now. I am trying to duplicate my mother’s steamed cake recipe. I regret not learning from her how to cook/make traditional Chinese food when she was still here with us. It’s been over 13 years since she’s been gone. I have searched everywhere online and have tried many recipes. I have not been able to re-create the steamed sponge cake – the way she made it and how moist it was. I am now more convinced than ever that I should try and adjust what she wrote down (she didn’t use measuring spoons or cups) – and when I am successful in duplicating what she made for us – I will share it with others. Her recipe did not include any baking powder. She had used only eggs, cake flour, regular flour, and sugar. Wish me luck.


cg 22 August 2013 at 7:31 am

hi alicek – believe me, mine doesn’t live up to my expectations either! i’d love to know your mom’s tricks too. =( cake flour is a great idea. good luck! this is a finicky item to make. but for me, even the imperfect ones are still good.


AliceK 22 August 2013 at 2:08 pm

Hi CG,
I did it – I tweaked my mom’s steamed cake recipe this morning and it came out as I remembered it. My kids (grown young adults) loved it. My daughter even said it was the best steamed cake she have ever had (and I made her eat many of my other experiments!). She even wanted me to make sure I write everything down so that she can have the recipe. Now, that is a compliment coming from a very picky second generation ABC. I love to share the recipe – can I upload or attach a word document somehow?


Doreen 5 September 2013 at 6:53 pm

Hi there. Came across your website after a rather grey, soberly discussion with my colleague that as a Chinese working mother in Asia, I have hardly made anything in the kitchen that came close to the scent of growing up in my own mama’s kitchen – of hainanese style coffee, steamed sponge cake, steamed chicken rice and etc. And so I am going to try your steamed sponge cake recipe for the weekend. Just want to thank you for making it possible for someone who is culinary-challenged with your easy to follow recipe and dedication to your website. Thumbs up!


cg 6 September 2013 at 2:17 pm

hi doreen – i hope it works out for you! i really try to make everything ironclad here, but eggs are uncontrollable. good luck!


pgal 10 January 2014 at 8:42 pm

Thanks for sharing the story of your family history! It was very interesting to read. I’ll definitely be following your blog πŸ™‚


Jourdie 4 May 2014 at 7:16 am

As the proud granddaughter of an awesome Chinese grandma, this history and recognition actually made me tear up. Yay for heritage and tenacity and the shareable, edible traditions! For about two seconds I was a tad disappointed that there wasn’t a surprisingly tech-savvy eighty year old popo behind this blog, but the love and storytelling easily make up for it. πŸ™‚


cg 12 May 2014 at 9:42 am

hi jourdie – thank you so much for this wonderful note! it would be super cool if there were a real chinese grandma blogging away here. =) but alas, just me, channeling the collective spirit of our awesome grandmas. thanks so much for reading here!


Jess & Lin 10 June 2014 at 6:22 pm

As mothers we are truly touched by you site. My friend Linda had made me really enjoy cooking over the last few years where now I’m trying all kind of recipes, using her and her husband as my guinea pigs. Yours are easy, tasty with simple ingredients. Some of yours I hope to pass on to my children and grandchildren. I look forward to coming to your virtual kitchen and sharing stories as well. Thank you for your time and work on this site. It’s amazing.


cg 16 June 2014 at 2:07 pm

jess & lin – this was such a sweet note! thank you so much for hanging out here, it’s really for people like you that i do this. love hearing from you!


Gail Fletcher 27 July 2014 at 11:24 pm

I’d love to follow your blog..


Amanda Vuu 21 August 2014 at 10:14 am

CG-very inspiring and well put. my grandma passed away before my father could bring her to the U.S. but based on the stories i hear about her she sounds a lot like this. great post.


cg 30 August 2014 at 5:00 pm

hi amanda – thank you so much!


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