Tuesday, October 25, 2011


It is not uncommon, here in China, to see a child walking along (in split pants of course)  holding the hand of a Grandmother. All day long I see Grandmothers taking care of little ones, as multi-generation is still very strong here.

When we were on our cruise, E and I happen to meet a Chinese woman who worked on the ship. Her name was Ling Ling. She was kind and excited to speak English to us. She also was pretty bored since she worked at the Ben N' Jerry's Ice Cream counter and it was about $5.00 a scoop. Needless to say there was not too much business there. But E and I found the chairs comfortable while we watched this show on DVD on our laptop. Ling Ling told us her story and it helped me to understand some cultural differences between the US and China.

After talking about how long she had worked on the ship (2 months) and how long she will work before a vacation (6 months) she mentioned that she has a three year old daughter. I felt comfortable enough to ask her if it saddened her to be away from her child. She replied, "Yes, but I do not know how to be a mother. She is with my parents and they know how to take care of her better than I can." Being the nosy journalistic person I am, I asked her if her husband was there with her daughter. Tears quickly filled her eyes and she said, "My husband died six months ago in a car accident. That is why I have to work." My heart broke for her. She shared such a tender thing with us. I told her that I thought she was a very good mother, sacrificing everything to provide for her daughter. 

Ling Ling's story touched my heart because of the circumstances. Likewise, we have a woman in our church that works as an ayi (nanny/cook/housekeeper) full-time here in Beijing. She lives with the family she works for while her husband and son are still in the Philippines. She told me that the money she makes here is so much more than she would ever make there and she sends all of it back to her family. Her husband's parents take care of her son while her husband is at work. Her eyes beamed as she told us her husband and son had just been here to visit her, but saying goodbye was extremely difficult.

Last week I went to a friend's house so her ayi could teach us to cook some authentic Chinese recipes (that post in the future). This woman worked harder than I have ever worked in one day. And she does that every single day! She had a smile on her face and truly looked like she enjoyed her work. She gets to my friend's house at 9am after she drops off her child at school, a luxury most ayis do not have. Then she cleans, does laundry, grocery shops and cooks lunch for my friend. After lunch she cleans some more and cooks an elaborate dinner (no opening cans, everything is fresh). She leaves at 5pm and never, ever eats with the family. I wondered how in the world she could go home and cook for her family. She doesn't...her family lives with her parents and her mother cooks for the family. I was happy that she got to be taken care of a little bit.

These situations are as common as sticky rice here. These women make sacrifices to provide for their family. These women have support from their mother or mothers-in-law. The results are children that are being raised by up to six adults! 
1 child to six adults, now that is a ratio!

1 comment:

Laura said...

Wonderful story Jen!! In Greece the dynamic is very similar, meaning the yiayia's (Grandmas) cook and take care of the babies while the parents work, which explains the strong family and level of respect for the older generation - the children grow up understanding the value of the older generation and end up passing it along. I see this in the Greek culture here, however not nearly as strong.

Thank you for sharing your experiences! I'm addicted! :)