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Shanghai mama

There’s a term called “Shanghai woman” that Aiyun has told me about. It’s said with a particular disdain. A Shanghai woman marries someone with a bit of wealth. They don’t work. The man makes the money and she spends it. It’s the man’s responsibility to earn for the family. It’s the woman’s responsibility to look good and put forward the proper image of their family to society. If you watch the film Crazy Rich Asians you’ll get the sense of what I’m talking about. This is not Aiyun’s mom.


I’m told by folks in the know that a lot of my students live in this sort of situation. A majority of them rarely see their parents during a week and are largely raised by their grandparents and ayis. It certainly jives with what I saw in Chengdu recently. A group of tenth grade students traveling around the country without their parents? That was normal for them. I distinctly remember one of the boys saying that he hoped to see his dad in a month when we go to Inner Mongolia together for China Trips. His dad’s business keeps away from home nearly all the time.


We changed our plans this morning on the fly while trying to figure out what Aiyun’s mom would enjoy most. We settled on picking her up later and taking her to dinner before surprising her with a trip down to the Bund to see the lights of Shanghai. Aiyun tells me she’s lived here for a long time and only seen this area once, and that was twenty years ago. I’m guessing that’s not atypical for the average Shanghai resident. There’s around 30 million of them give or take a few million. Around four times the entire state of Washington crammed all into one city.


We spent our morning and afternoon meandering a mall close to the hotel. Had Starbucks and just talked for about an hour. Window shopping. Ended up buying some cool stickers to put on my students tests when they do well.


Picked up Aiyun’s mom (Chen Longying) around five o’clock and headed to Mexico Lindo Cantina and Grill. No idea how she would respond to trying a Mexican meal. Call it an adventure. Aiyun said she was up for it. I was feeling super excited to have a good Mexican meal. Melted cheese please. We arrived, and the place was closed for good. No indication from any review or map program that they weren’t still open. Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to head to the Cantina Agave as a backup plan. It was along the way towards the Bund. Fingers crossed that they survived Covid unlike many other restaurants.


Arrived at Cantina Agave and it was PACKED.



We had a table waiting for us as Aiyun called ahead and made us a reservation. Ordered Fajitas, Enchiladas, and a variety of tacos including carne asada and carnitas. Oh yeah, and a margarita to sample as well.



Food was spectacular. It was expected to be packed (which is why we tried the other place first). Both had great reviews, but Agave was closer to the Bund area, hence a bit busier. Mama wasn’t a fan of anything sour, so she wasn’t into the limes or sour cream, but we were able to find her a mushroom taco that she liked. She was also a fan of the corn chips and Spanish rice. The face she made when sampling the margarita was to die for. Not a fan. Wish I had a picture of that.


Mama hasn’t had an easy life. She was born into WW2 (1940) when the Japanese were laying waste to China. Her father was killed by the Japanese when she was a very little girl living in Taizhou. It was dead center on the path of destruction that the Japanese left on their way to Nanjing. I couldn’t finish the book Rape of Nanjing. It was just too tough on the heart. Aiyun tells me she doesn’t like to talk about it. She remembers her speaking of the Japanese planes flying overhead and how airplanes still frighten her. Who could blame her? Like any mom she just wants her children to be happy. She’s not a wealthy lady, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to give Aiyun an envelope of money from time to time. Recently Aiyun’s brother Xiang bought a another new apartment and had their mom move into it. Much nicer than her old place. Brand new floors, kitchen, and windows. I think he owns several places and rents them out. He’s a well respected doctor working in a top hospital in Shanghai, but not really wealthy like you might expect. Doctors don’t earn the same sort of salaries in China like they do in the states.


We made it to the waterfront and had hoped to take a quick ferry across the river for fun. At two Kwai (around thirty cents USD) that’s tough to beat for entertainment value. Bummed to find out the ferry stops service at 6:30. Live and learn. Lightshow at the Bund continues to be one of my favorite places to see in China.



Mama had a fun night. Mission accomplished. For 83 years old she’s still “with it”. Was hard not to think of my mom in a memory care center knowing she would have really enjoyed today with us. Mama moves a bit slow, but still has that aggressive angry voice that lets you know she means business. At times no idea what she and Aiyun are saying to each other, but you can hear the disapproval and disagreement. Atta girl. It’s something I appreciate about Aiyun. She doesn’t mind challenging me when she thinks I’m wrong. I recognize that I need that in my life. Probably more accurate to say I want that in my life. I want a partner, not a side kick or a servant.



My experiences in large cities in the states is limited, but Shanghai is what I’m guessing New York feels like. Shanghai is a city with a pounding heart beat. A pulse. The entire Bund area is just breathtaking and alive in such a beautiful way. The constantly moving lights, the motion, and the boats slowly floating by are a memory that will stick with me.

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