Monday, June 13, 2011

old chinese ladies

This morning I was jogging home when I saw a short person clad in black, wearing a hat, pushing a metal shopper up the sloped sidewalk of Hyde Street. The shopper was piled so high with trash bags that they obscured the view of the tiny person pushing it. I'm not a very fast jogger (particularly when going uphill), but they were moving very slow, so it was just a few seconds later that I caught up with this slow-mover. Without really thinking, I cast a quick sideways glance as I made to pass them, and I was horrified to see that it was my grandmother.

Okay, it wasn't really my grandmother. My only living grandparent lives with full-time assistance in Singapore, so this tiny woman pushing this cart of recycling up this was definitely not her. But every time I see an old Asian person digging for a living, my heart buckles in my chest. Seeing as how I live next to Chinatown, you'd think I would be used to this, but no. Because every old person collecting cans to survive makes me see my parents, and even myself, and I always wonder what has gone wrong if an old woman is out struggling to push a cart of recycling up a hill by herself at eight in the morning. I usually stop and ask the women if they need help, and usually they say no. But this woman allowed me to grasp the handles of her cart and maneuver it up the hill. It was ridiculously heavy.

"You're very strong!" I told her.

"I'm 84 years old," she said. I'm not sure if she told me that because she was proud that she was still going at 84...or if she was explaining why she was now too weak to make it up the hill.

Part of me wants to believe that these women do not really need to be collecting cans. There are two poles of old Chinese ladies--those that expect to be treated like empresses of miniature empires (which many of them are). These ladies will expect all their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to fall all over themselves so that they won't have to lift a finger, ever, as a sign of respect for their old age and for their matriarchal position. Then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, are the scrappy women who believe that idleness and privilege are the worst of all traits, and they will be out collecting cans even if they live in a mansion with their eldest son, the doctor, and his wife, the lawyer. These kind of women cannot sit still because they need to feel like they are constantly providing whatever they can to the family. I prefer to think that these women belong to this latter camp, because it is a lot more comforting to believe this than to imagine that just a few blocks away from me, people are living in poverty, or that this woman's family has deserted her and that nobody is taking care of her in her old age.

That just kills me. It made me want to adopt her and bring her home with me, sit her on the sofa, and buy her a television so she could watch soap operas all day.

Related: If You Think Things Suck Now, Just Wait Til You're Old and Poor

1 comment:

Luis Celestino said...

i read somewhere that sacramento has the nation's highest per capita chinese population...i live in a largely chinese neighborhood and seeing the ladies collect cans from our bins impresses me in ways similar to sense is that they are tough, resourceful, and wise...but it also seems like when they come around they bring a tiny reminder of a basic connection between neighbors...romanticized vision, sure, but i like it.