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.