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The Right Mix

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

As I rummage through the refrigerator for ingredients: pork, bok choy, salty

pickled olives, and heat vegetable oil in a wok, I get an overwhelming sense of

nostalgia. Stir-frying makes me think of my grandfather who taught me how to

cook and my grandmother with whom we would share the delicious meals we

created together. I laugh when I add leftovers to my stir-fry because this would

surely elicit a disapproving “tsk tsk” from grandpa.

My mom, my brother, and I moved to the United States when I was six. Because

my father had to stay behind for work, my grandparents selflessly left behind their

friends and the lives they had built in Shenzhen to come help take care of me

and my brother in California. They were fish out of water — unable to speak

English, drive, or fully understand American culture, but they never complained.

They helped us with our math homework. Grandpa made us his special rice

cakes every morning before school. Grandma would call me, “Ya Ya,” her special

nickname for me, and would keep me especially close when my mother was

away on her many business trips.

My grandparents were my everything. So, in 2018 when my grandfather was

diagnosed with colon cancer and they moved back to China for his treatment, my

world came crashing down. Even at twelve, I understood that my grandpa

wanted to spend his final months at home.

In the summer of 2020, only a few months after grandpa died, my perpetually

healthy, vibrant grandmother was diagnosed with leukemia. I vowed to take care

of her and treasure our time together. And I did. I woke up in the afternoon and

slept after school so I could coordinate with the time in Shenzhen. Eventually, we

moved back to China to help care for her. I would bike over to the hospital after

my ukulele lessons and play her “You Are My Sunshine.” She told me stories

about their life in a poor, rural part of China when my mom was a child, and how

hard my mom had worked to attend a prestigious university.

During the pandemic, I was in a slump, just languishing, and unable to focus on

schoolwork. My middle-of-the-night walks with my cousin when we commiserated

about Zoom classes, pandemic isolation, and our boredom and discontent,

helped. My cousin reminded me that along with “do what makes you happy,” my

grandparents always told me to “be a good person.” This gave me a new

perspective on the situation and presented new questions. Could I do what made

me happy and also be a good person? Could I do both while also fulfilling the

hopes my parents and grandparents had for me, to ensure their sacrifices were

not in vain?

I now recognized that when I felt neglected by my parents growing up, they were

actually selflessly working overtime to pave the way for my brother and me to

have opportunities they did not. When my mom’s electronics company relocated

her to the U.S., she saw it as a chance for us to get a better education.

My grandmother passed away when we were in the U.S. As she lovingly

whispered, “Yaya, Yaya,” on one of our last Facetime calls, I cried and frantically

tried to thank her for teaching me how to cook, behave, love others, and love

myself. I felt guilty for not being by her side during her final moments, though I

take comfort in the thought that, if she and grandpa were still here, they would be

proud of me and how independent I’ve become.

“Listen to your grandparents!” grandpa always told me. I still “listen” and learn

from their actions and choices, and cherish their altruism, unconditional love, and

generosity. Every day, their memory inspires me to emulate them and live an

honorable and meaningful life — even if I do use leftovers!

by Alice Wang


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