“Life goes by really fast,” my auntie (on my mother’s side) remarked. She was intently watching a Chinese soap opera on the couch.
“I remember we used to live in Jilong (基隆市) before coming here,” she answered.
“我以為妳們的生活跟著中國歷史 (I thought your life pretty much mirrored Chinese history),” I replied. “妳們以前在哪兒 (Where did you live before that)?”
“That feels like someone else’s life,” she said. She told me that she grew up in Chongqing in Sichuan province. She recounted how the Americans, the French, the British, Chinese, Germans, Italians, and the Japanese were all fighting at the time.
Ten years ago or so, I recall trying to ask my mom the same sort of information. She asked me if I thought she was going to die soon; I was trying to pump her for information before… That pretty much silenced me.
“你媽媽好好笑 （You’re Mom’s so funny),” my aunt responded when I relayed this exchange.
I am really grateful to have my aunt around. She returned around Thanksgiving from almost 6 months hanging out with her children and grandchildren in the US. Before she returned, I felt like an odd guest whose owners were all out doing something more important.
Could I invite my Chinese classmates over? The dining table would make a good poker table. No, probably better not.
Now that she’s back we keep each other company. She’s pretty busy not relying on anyone to buy groceries, cook dumplings (餃子）and beef noodles (牛肉麵). Unlike my mom, she puts a lot more salt in her food. It’s the original 味道。 She also plays mah jong twice a week — not that close to the apartment. I was surprised she will ride a bus for 25 minutes to play for 8+ hours. Sometimes she returns up NT 3,000; sometimes she’s down NT 2,000.
When neither of us is too busy, I enjoy talking to her. She doesn’t speak English so it’s a great chance for me to use all the new vocabulary and grammar I learn every week. She says I’m improving. I know I am because last April I used to get pretty tired from our discussions. Now we can talk for more than an hour. I ask her about what my mom was like when she was younger; her children; how to make beef noodle soup; to explain what’s going on the game shows.
I always felt there’s all this information and experience trapped in my parents’ generation and grandparents’ generation. I always lacked the vocabulary and the confidence to ask the right questions. I know learning this information doesn’t help me buy a bigger house or a fancier car. But there’s something there that I’m grasping for.