Sunday, July 2, 2017

Care for My Aging Parents

Over 30 years ago when my brother wanted to come to the USA for graduate study, my father stopped him from coming.  My father wrote me a letter and also told my brother that he needed to stay in China. Since then my parents have been trying very hard to get my brother married, one girl waited for him for over 3 years and my parents had already treated her as their daughter in law, but still they failed.  He is still single today. He has been assigned to many places for work except for his hometown where he could stay with my parents. My parents wait for him to come home for a few days short stay, then they wait for the next time; they love to feed him, make his bed, and do his laundry. My brother has always been very quiet; still the biggest pain for my father was since he is his only son that he did give him any grandson.  They also worry about who is going to take care of my brother when they are not around any longer. My parents lived among their coworkers all their life; they know each of their neighbors. My brother has always lived with my parents whenever he came home; his own place has been empty since he brought it over 30 years ago.
     My parents came to the US  in the 90s when my youngest son was 2.5 years old and they helped me restart my career.  I have been working full time ever since. When they returned to China without coming back, I was worried.  I kept calling them to come back, they could stay with me, or with my sister but they prefer to stay in their own home, waiting for my brother to come home.  I did raise the question who would take care of them when they need help, they told me they will hire a helper. The only thing I could do was call them on the phone regularly to check on them, and skype when my brother or sister is around.  It has been more and more difficult for them to take care of themselves in recent years. My sister and her kids have tried to stay with them every summer and my brother tries to come home every other weekend.
     My brother asked his company to move him back to his hometown so he could take care of his aging parents. Just he has not received any notice yet. My father told him not to be picky since all the good positions might already been filled. I felt for my poor brother, over 50, he was asking his company to move him back to take care of our aging parents. I was more worried he might lose his job and his job seemed to be the most important thing in his life. To my surprise, his company actually considered his request, and is working on it for him.
     My father is 84 and has a lot more problems health-wise; he has a good mind but not good hands and feet.  He could not even button his clothes on a bad day. My mom is 86 and is in good health except for high blood pressure.  She does not believe in real doctors but instead falls for the salesmen who have sold her health pills ever since they left the US.  She spent not only all her monthly pension and savings, plus my father's.  My father thought he had more pension than my mom and my mom has a big family in Sichuan.  He put his money into her bank account, but he kept all of their saving books.  One day, he noticed that my mom's saving books were gone, then her CDs. He asked my mom, and my mom said it was her money. Very soon, she spent it all.  No one knows where all that money went.
     My mom's blood pressures has never been under control, she only takes her blood pressure pills when she really is not feeling good and her blood pressure is high, sometimes 190. Every time I talk to my mom, she will read to me from the newsletters or books about all the health pills she bought; they cure and prevent everything. In the beginning, she had trouble to read, sometimes I had to wait a minute or two, sometimes she almost gave it up.  Then she picked it up again, read much better and more fluent. She could read an hour at a time, I just listen.
     When she is not home, I talked to my father, he complained about my mom. Phone calls are all hers. Sometimes she is gone before he even gets up in the morning.  She never tells him where she was going, or when she is coming home. When he cooks her lunch she failed to come home, when he did not cook her lunch, she shows up for lunch. I asked my mom to leave a note for my father, but she never listens to me. I asked my father to ask my mom to pay her share of the expenses; my father said it would make him look bad so he did not want to do that.
     Two years ago, my mom asked her 88 years old brother in Zigong to come to Chengdu to check his eyes; her brother took a 3-hours bus trip to come to my city. The diagnosis was the same, he had cataracts. On the way back, my father told me that he was carrying all the goodies bags that my mom packed for her brother. My mom held her brother's hand, walking ahead of him. He felt like he was a bag carrier. To make sure her brother could arrive at his city safely. he bought two tickets, accompanied him back to his city and back the same day. He came back around 9 PM, exhausted and hungry.  My mom did not leave him any food so he was upset, my mom said he should have eaten a long time ago since it was way past dinner time.  My father ended up eating instant noodles instead. Still my father would never complain when my mom was around.
     My sister and her kids went back to visit them more in the summers, and returned to the US by the end of August for school. Early September last year, right after they came back from China, a close friend of ours called her and told her what she saw about my mom. She said that on a 90-degrees hot day, my mom was outside the gate waiting for her delivery for over 1 hour. When she received it, the box was broken, and it was a magnet bracelet. She saw the price and was so shocked that she called the police. She showed my mom on the computer, it worth a few yuan to 300 yuan at the most, but my mom paid over 3000 yuan. The policeman did show up but could not do anything about it.
     We have treated this friend as a family member, her husband was matched by my mom many years ago. My parents treated their daughter as their own granddaughter. My brother also showered her with many gifts. Anything good we have, always give them some. Her husband was good as a nature healer, only without license but it is FREE, he prescribed countless herb remedies and acupuncture for my parents. They have been a great help for my parents.
     My sister decided to go back to China again, I told her no since she just got back with her kids. She had not done a thing all those years about my mom's buying and spending. No one could stop her, after all it is her money.  My dad told my sister no, not to go back. She did not listen, she flew back again. My father's hands and feet have been numb for about a year, he tried everything from massages, acupuncture and some medicine but not getting better, and getting worse. His hands and feet started to get swollen and hurt.  Since my sister is back again, my father checked himself into our best hospital in the city. Huaxi Hospital, ranked 2nd for seven consecutive years, consists of 4300 beds, 36 clinical departments, and 15 medical practice departments. Over 6000 people work here, including 550 doctors and associate professors. More than 30 programs have been started through cooperation with the USA, Canada, Denmark, Japan, and Sweden.
    My sister took my mom's cell phone away, changed our home number and followed her everywhere.  My mom would not talk to her and me since my sister was back.  She also refused to take the new blood pressure pills my sister picked up for her after seeing the doctor near the gate in the Oil Company Hospital. Why? because she read all the papers along with the pills, which include side affects and warnings. All the health pills she bought from the direct marketing people never listed anything bad, only good. She was not used to reading bad news. My sister agreed with her so she cooked herb remedies from our friend who was a natural healer, so her blood pressure was high again. My father was in the hospital told us that she would take blood pressure pill when she does not feel good, of course, my father kept all papers so she never read about the side affects or warnings.
     My father made an appointment for my mom since he was in the hospital but my mom refused to go. I ended up Skype with my sister asking her to pointing the camera towards my mom, she looked awful and confused as if her sky was falling.  I called her and she would not even acknowledge me. My sister and I started crying, I told her to go to the hospital to find my father.  My father was looking for her.  I even tried to ask my sister to find those sale's people out there since they seems to make my mom happy. My sister said she did not know any of them, no one approached my mom since she came home. I could see my mom crashing down fast, she was used to people out there treated her like a queen, but emptied all her bank accounts. While we did not know what to do, my sister said my mom was packing things for our dad.  She was going to the hospital.  The doctor prescribed her 2 kinds of pills to lower her blood pressure, one from Germany, slow release. I could tell the improvement every week Skype with my sister, still my mom refused to talk to me as if it was all my fault. She was also complaining I talk to my sister too much, wasting money.
     One morning I could see my sister was eating her breakfast, my mom was sitting next to her eating as well.  All of the sudden my mom standing up and walk away from the table leaving her unfinished breakfast.  My sister tried to stop her, she said " I need to get your brother's egg ready, he is getting up".  My sister said "he is not up yet, finish your breakfast first, it will get cold." My mom would not listen so my sister stopped her breakfast as well, following my mom to get my brother's egg ready. When they just about finish, I could hear my brother's door opened, he was up. My sister and I was amazed that my mom's mind was so clear when it was about my brother. To my parents, my brother has always been the most important person as long as I could remembered, it never changed.  My sister and I are used to this.
    I decided to go back to visit China by the end of the year with 2 tasks, one was to get a home aide for my parents, the second was to get my sister back to the USA as her husband requested, to help her two kids, one freshman in high school and one freshman in middle school.  My sister's husband had high hopes on me since I was the oldest.  He told me that he was not in the position to tell my sister to come home since she was taking care of her parents.  I told him that I would try but not get his hopes up since I had no power over them. Very soon it proves that I was right.
     My brother picked me up at the airport at midnight, he even gave up his bedroom for me. My father got up and greeted me and gave me a big hug, so hard and so long. My mom did not get up. My brother slept in a little bed next to my dad's full size bed over night, then left the next day.  I could not sleep at night since it was day time in America. The next day, my mom showed me the Chinese Newspaper report about American gun violence, how many people died a year.  I told her I know but it only happens in bad neighborhoods, asking her to not worry.  She then showed me the bad news about Trump, I told her do not worry, the American president does not have that much power. He has only 4 years, my father said that is why we call them leaders 领袖 in Chinese ( which means collar and sleeve), it is easy to get dirty. My mom's face became bitter, her smiles were gone.  She kept to herself most of the time, I could not get close to her.  She is little better with my sister, my sister said it was her few months of hard work.  She also showed her all the bad news from Taiwan. With her ways, she worried about her two daughters away from home.
     After lunch I went to bed. Around 3 pm, my dad opened my door and woke me up, I really did not want to get up. He said if I kept sleeping I would not be able to sleep at night. He wanted me to go out with him to get some steam buns for tomorrow's breakfast. Down stairs, every step of the way, we met someone.  I do not know them, my father would proudly tell them I was his oldest daughter. We ended up sitting down at a pavilion in the garden.  One old lady I knew, she was one of my childhood girlfriend's mom in the courtyard.  Mrs Zhang, her husband has left her for some years.  She was so happy to see me, she held my hands sitting next to me. Taking me away from the rest of the old ladies who also wanted talk to me.  She still remembered me as a role model for all other kids when I was in the courtyard. I used to help cooking, hand washing all family laundry... She told me she has a companion living with her now, suggested that my parents also needed one. I agreed with her, she then said she knew one.  My father got the phone number and told her he would consider her. 20 minute trip took us over 2 hours.  It was dinner time when we got back home.
     My sister knew where to get the best things. We went to outdoor markets for fresh vegetables, tofu daily after their Buddhist morning prayers and after my cleaning pots and pans in the kitchen. She rarely bought meat since she is a vegan, but would buy cooked meats for us sometimes. Each trip, she would buy some dog food for the homeless dogs. On the way back, she would scatter some here and there. She told me that she was not the only one feeding them, she saw other people leaving dog food out.  Even the vendors who sell food in the markets, they also fed homeless dogs.  I did notice some dirty dogs around, not sure if they are homeless.  She said they are, otherwise they are clean and have their owners nearby. She also told me that there are a lot of homeless cats, she think they should be able to find rats around.  I was shocked to know there are so many homeless dogs around. I thought that Chinese people eat dogs and cats, so why are there so many? I know American SPCA also rescues pets off the streets, encourage citizens to adopt them.  For the ones no one wants, death by injection. I was shocked to see so many homeless dogs in my neighborhood and so many people feed them. I am more worried about rabies. Each year, ASPCA, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats).
Skinny Chinese Santa Claus
     My father was trying to tell me his problems on the phone before I got back to China. I told him to wait until I come; he  showed me his reports from Huaxi medical. Listed 9 problems, plus the list of the medicines he took.  I took a photo and sent it to Mr Wu who is a retired pharmacist. They were my parents friends when they lived with me in the USA.  His wife took care of my youngest son after my parents went back to China. Their daughters are living faraway from them and I am close by so I take them shopping whenever they need. They treated me like one of their daughters only without emotional attachment. Mr Wu replied right away, he was concerned about that many pills my father took.  So he suggested after my father finished this prescription, he should go back to his doctor to see if some symptoms have gotten better so maybe some of the pills could be stopped. I thought it was a good idea since my father already refilled everything once.  In China, all the prescription drugs are for sale in any drug store as long as you know what you need.  You do not need a prescription to buy any prescription drug. My father was not happy to hear what Mr Wu had to say, he said he was not a doctor, only following the doctor's order. You too, only study trees, know nothing about medicine. I told him I could accompany him back to the Huaxi to see his doctor.  He said his doctor told him he could refill his medicine and he did not want to go to see doctor.
     For the next few days, my father talked to me a lot but not my mother, she seemed to be estranged with me, not like me talk or doing anything.  She seemed to not know me at all, she was with my sister.  My father said my mom would not say hi back to their colleagues anymore, she tried to avoid them all.  Might have been she was trying to convince others to buy those health pills, she even tried to give them away when she learned a colleague was dying in the hospital. Of course, she received rejections.  She truly believed those pills could save them.  My sister said once they went to the bank to cash her monthly pension, she pays everything with cash like most Chinese.  The young teller was coughing, she insisted to bring him a box of health pills for free (cost her 700 yuan) the next day.  The young teller literally ran away from her and told her he was better now.  The direct sale in China is illegal, but they are everywhere preying on the seniors. They have newsletters, books and my mom treats them like a bible and she believes that the pills she brought from them are all good, nothing bad. Her blood pressure pills from the real hospital include side effects and warnings that she believes could all happen to her.
     As for a care giver, my father was thinking about her younger sister's baby son, who had a son then a daughter before China allowed a second child. He was fined 10,000 yuan to have the daughter, every time the collector came to collect money, he said he had no money, could not even afford to raise this daughter, so his daughter was free to take. He even prepared the extra clothes and diapers for the collector.  The collector left unhappy each time.  Soon the government police changed, his daughter became legal and no more fines.  She just turned 3 years old and her parents were happy to have her over their 18 years old teenage son.  My father was thinking about this girl's mom, since her husband had gone out working as a migrant worker all over China, never was home anyway.  Her older son turned 18 and was out working as a migrant worker as well, she and her 3 year old could come to take care of my parents.  My father also thought about my brother, he was thinking about adopting a girl from the northern farm for my brother, at least two of his cousins adopted abandoned girls, two of them were grown up and married with kids already.  He was thinking the same mother could take care of her 3 years old and my brother's adopted daughter together so my brother would not be alone when he is old, he would have a descendant.  Of course, my brother had to agree on this.
    I told my father this adopted baby would not work. The adopted girl will certainly following the 3 years old calling her mom.  When they leave, the girl will follow her mom as well.  She will love the care giver more than my brother.  Not to mention China still a very traditional family center. My brother needs to have a family first before adopting any kid.  Not to mention with two kids, how was she going to take care of my parents, not to mention any medical bills since they are not city residents without any insurance. He thought about this for a day, my mom completely rejected the whole idea.
    I was also planning to go to Zigong by myself to see my uncle, where I spent the first 9 years of my life with my grandma.  A day before my trip, one of my father's cousin and his 36 year old son was coming the next day.  My sister and my father thought I should take my mom with me since she does not like northern farmers. 8 AM the next morning, the father and son came and it was the first time for all of us see his 36 years old son, my father only met his father since his son was out as a migrant worker; it was the first time for my sister and I to see both of them. After lunch, my father suggested that my mom, my sister and I all go to Zigong to my uncle's. All three of their northerners could enjoy themselves. Our cousins told us again and again they would take good care of my father.
     We arrived Zigong around 5:30 PM. Our uncle already booked the Bean Spout Hot Pot restaurant, one of my cousins took my mom, my uncle an me in her car, but we went to the wrong Bean Spout Hot Pot, only one word difference. She was trying to call my 88 year old aunt but she left her cell phone at home.  She tried to call my uncle's home aide who was with my aunt, his phone was turned off.  My sister had my mom's cell phone but I do not remember the number. We asked around and found out there was another Bean Sprout Hot Pot down the street. Since it was so difficult to find a parking space, we decided to walk down and leave the car parked where it was. I was holding my 90 year uncle's arm slowing walking down the street while my cousin ran ahead to make sure it was the right hot pot ahead. Suddenly, my mom pushed me away from my uncle, she wanted to held my uncle's arm. So my 86 year mom held her 90 year old brother step by step walking down the street. It took them more than half hour to finally reach the right hot pot. After dinner, my uncle was really tried, he could not left his feet up to my cousin's SUV. It took their home aide a great effort to push him into his seat since he was a big man.
     My sister got up at 5:30 AM next morning as usual, she had been getting up at 5:30 AM every morning to cook rice porridge for my parents. My parents have a programmable rice cooker she could set it up the night before, but she wanted to cook the rice porridge the old fashion way. My father gets up around 6:30 AM and goes out to exercise. My mom would get up around the same time, she opened windows for fresh air.  My sister closes windows after her, she yells "the heat is on, Mom".  My mom never listens to her. To make my father happy, I did cook one morning when I could not sleep at 3 AM. I used oatmeal with chopped apple, walnuts and cinnamon.
     Their home aide arrived at 7 AM and felt uneasy since he suppose to cook.  My aunt said my sister's porridge was not as good so she should stop cooking.  Their aide works from 7 AM to 7 PM for 7 days, and covers 3 meals plus all cleanings. He was a cousin on my 88 year old aunt's side, and was hired a year after my aunt broke her hip. She and my uncle were going out but my uncle's big feet tripped her. Her surgery was very successful now she could walk again. We called their aide 'old brother' and went with him to the farmer's market daily shopping, also to buy things we liked.  On the way there, my sister noticed this family massage place. They were all blind or partially blind.  She wanted to feel and learn from different massages.  I have never paid anyone for massage, only my sister worked on me whenever I see her.  350 yuan for 12 times, so 3 of us could have 4 massages. My sister felt like she was on vacation, she enjoyed free time here.
     The next day my father called, wanted one of us back home. His cousins want to go back home. We were shocked since they just came to see my father a day before. My mother said my sister should go back so she only enjoyed one massage which was a huge disappointment.  The older brother and I tried to finish the rest of the massage every day. One day, he decided to have his shoes polished by a lady sitting on the sidewalk. He looked very proud and really enjoyed the service. I noticed his shoe inserts; they were hand-embroiled so beautifully that I thought it was a waste to step on them. He said his wife made them when she had nothing to do at home. Nothing to do? She works in a restaurant daily till midnight and he takes a bus to pick her up every night for her safety.
Hand-embroiled shoe inserts
     After my sister left, I asked my mom if she wanted me to move into her room since I was in my aunt's room and I know both have a life long rivalry. She did not like it when we talked as if we talked about her, I could move into her room but she said No, so I continue stayed with my aunt in her room.  It is very common in China that a couple sleep in their own room after the kids are gone. Still my aunt checked my uncle every night, he wet his pants every now and then.  She will have to help him change. My uncle refused to wear diapers since it was not comfortable, so the aide would do laundry almost every day or every other day.
     My 90 years old uncle did slow down a lot.  But he still tried to keep his routine every day, each night, he soaked the soy beans, red and black beans, plus goji berries. The next morning, first he listened to the radio for the weather, he has a note book to record daily temperature high and low, then he compared them the same day different years. He then exercised by following the radio music which reminded me when I was in College.  The same music only I do not remember most movements. I watch him and noticed that he did not remember much either. Sadly he forgot to do this every day. He then put all soaked beans into the soy milk machine making thick chowder like soup.  He wanted all of us to have a bowl of that before a bowl of rice porridge, a hard boiled egg plus a steam bun. Honestly that I could not finish all what he ate, I have not eaten hard boiled eggs for years.  So I had two bowls plus half steam buns we bought the night before, they also ate a lot more fatty meats.  They have a little high cholesterol but their blood pressure was fine and they do not take any pills.
     The next thing my uncle would do daily was checking the daily newspaper, he will have to change his shoes, then take his cane to go down stairs to the mail box. The cement stairs are very steep with at least 20 steps.  He would check 3-4 times since 10 AM, but the papers do not come till around 1 PM.  He had 2 kinds of papers, one local Zigong, one from my city Chengdu where his two sister live. I was worried but my mom was even worse, she took away his mail box key and would not let him go down. My aunt and the aide said he held the railing plus his cane slowly go down and slowly up.  It is his daily things and it is OK. My mom went down and got his paper, very soon, my uncle was looking for his key, he searched every one of his pockets, nothing.  Then he asked my mom and my mom said she has it but my uncle could not hear unless she yelled close to one of his ears.  I was trying to use my hand pointing my mom, he said to my mom "you gave me the papers, you have to have the keys." My mom did not go to tell him close to his ear so my uncle gave up.  In the evening, my aunt told my mom to give back his keys since he had other keys he needed to use in his room including for his money. He give the aide money for food shopping every 10 days, the aide said my uncle owed him 225.  He already asked him a few times, he forgot to give the money back to him.  So I said, could I give them to you? He said No so I asked my uncle gave him 225.  My uncle first searched his bags, nothing.  Then he used his key opened his locked drawer, he give the aide 300 yuan, but the aide gave him back 75.  My uncle counted the money, he said 10 yuan short.  The said said there was a 20 bill, then I help him count again and showed him 20 yuan.  He then agreed, it was alright and we all needed to make sure the money was alright.
     We visited my youngest aunt's Ju hua grave, her daughter took us there.  My mom cried very hard there. It was her baby sister who died unexpectedly from a traffic accident.  The next day we planned to visit my grand mom's grave.  My aunt yelled at her husband's ear at lunch time, "do you want to go to see your mom?".  He answered, " yes, yes".  After lunch, my aunt left in a rush since she had to go play Mujong with her friend every day till 4 PM.  The aide cleaned up and also left for his break, my mom said my grand mom's grave was half way up the hill, hundreds of steps of steep stairs. We could not take him with us and we could not be responsible if something happened to him.  She was firm that we could not take him.  At the same time, my uncle was preparing his new clothes to take a shower.  I started a panic attack since the aide was not around.  I asked him to wait for the aide to come back. My uncle said he always took a shower himself.  I was still uneasy, so I told him that I would wait outside just in case.  After his shower, he asked me to go to his room to get the navy blue suit hanging in his closet. I went and helped him to put it on, it was difficult but finally helped him button all the buttons to be ready to go.  My mom was watching us from the living room, she walked over and yelled at my uncle's ear, nap time, nap time. almost 2 PM, you are late.  My uncle suddenly woke up and said " yes, nap time, I am going to take a nap".  He slowly walk into his room by his bed, he started to unbutton himself, took off his suit and went to bed instead. I closed his door and we took off to see my grand mom. When I thought my mom was out of her mind, she was very clear, when I thought she did not hear, she heard it.
My Grandmother's gravesite
     While we stayed in Zigong, my mom had two nice phone conversions with my dad.  She showed her care and love to my dad, asking him to take care of himself.  My mom's call melted my father's heart, he told me that we could stay as long as we wanted. My uncle and aunt recommended a family podiatrist to my mom since she walked funny.  She refused to go at first but went later, she ended up having 6 corns taken care of on her both feet.  My brother was coming back 12/31 and leaving on the 3rd, we were going to have a family meeting about hiring a helper for my parents. To make sure we got the tickets, I went to the bus station to get our tickets the day before.  When I told my mom I got the return ticket, she said "you stay here, I will leave tomorrow'.  I looked at her puzzled, she quickly realized her mind was short for a second, she did not say anything to correct herself.  She must remember the old days, she comes and goes and leaves me there.  We could all feel that my mom had her moments, but she refused to go to the doctor for a checkup.  Her annual physical was fine except for her high blood pressure.  My aunt talked to my mom a lot while she was there, telling her that "her nutritional supplements" would not work, only cheated all her money from the pyramid scheme. I did not want to touch the subject, but told her she needed to take her blood pressure pills every day, she needed to take care of my dad the same way she was taking care of her 90 year brother.  Her brother listened to her and takes all the supplements she brought to him.  My father never took her supplements since he got 6-7 kinds of medicines from the best hospital in our region.
     The bus station is very clean and modern; it now has a security check just like the airport. I was amazed that condoms were still free, not in a box like I saw when I was a little; but of course, that is part of the government's population control. They are dispensed from a self-serve machine. I saw a baby backpack made from bamboo, something I have not seen anywhere in the city. I also noticed a farmer with a rooster waiting for the bus; he told me he was going to see his son in the city. When I came too close to the rooster, trying to take a picture, the rooster was scared and he moved away from me and closer to his owner. The poor thing did not know that he would be their dinner soon. Still, the rooster must have had a very close relationship with the owner; he did not look like a caged rooster. He was a happy rooster in the farmer's yard, and wandered free till the day he sacrificed himself for his owner's dinner.
     One thing I liked  was that the bus was under speeding control, the speaker would announce when the driver speeding.  3-4 times both ways, the speaker said "you are close to the speed limit, slow down please.  It would repeat till the driver slowed down.  The bus went to my city every half hour on the hour, over 50 trips each day.  We could also take the train like we used to when I was little but it would be slow since it stops at every stops.
     My brother came back at 1 AM before us, he made us a nice fish dinner. He was asleep in his bedroom already.  My sister said she could sleep in my father's bedroom in that little bed where my brother slept.  I could sleep with my mother. My mother said No.  I said I could sleep in my father's room then, my sister did not need to move, only a week left for me before I go back to USA. I was hoping to move back to my brother's room since he was leaving after New Year's on the 3rd. Boy, I understood why my father's cousin wanted to leave a day after.  After all he was over 60 years old, my father let his son stay in my brother's room. The father in his room, little bed next to his big bed. He would not let anyone into my mom's room so my mom's room was empty. My father's snoring like thunder,  I used the ear plugs from the airplane but they did not help. No wonder my mom moved out and my brother did not want to return.
     My brother took our aunt's family and us out for New Year's.  He booked a private room with a private bathroom for our aunt.  The meal was abundant and also covered my sister's needs since my she was vegetarian.  The meal made my mom very happy, she ate a lot so did everyone else. My father had to watch what he eats since now his blood sugar is little high. By the end, my sister and I packed leftovers.  My sister made sure every plate was clean. I said to my sister that she needed a spatula, she agreed.  Her actions amused my brother. He said "why don't you pack the table and chairs too." I said "if you paid for it, she would." everyone laughed. She packed all leftovers in Zigong as well where my cousins were laughing at her. We, Americans, are just cheap. For us still kept China's old traditions, waste food is something my sister and I could not stand for, my parents generation would agree with us.
     My brother is a wealthy bachelor in our big family, my sister said everything he had was all the best. He has been supporting all family members in need. I asked him if he needed anything before my return, I used to buy him white cotton socks, I asked him if he needed any more.  He did not reply and my sister said not to buy him anything, so I brought him nicotine gums hoping he could quit smoking.  I noticed his white socks on his feet were the same one I brought 5 years ago, they looked very bad. I asked him if he liked the socks why not tell me, the old socks like he was wearing from my boys and husband in my home would be great for floor mops.  I brought some smaller shrunken wool socks would not fit my boys for our northern cousins in the farms.  I picked the best one for my brother since it was much better than the one he was wearing. He put it on the next day.
     After breakfast, my brother was lying on his bed resting. His salted duck egg shell was not cleaned so my mom put it aside.  When my father came around, he noticed the egg shell too and was ready to clean it. I told him mom already saved it and she might look for it later.  He agreed. I was right, my mom did later clean the egg shell and ate every piece on the shell. My sister and I know better, this kind of things would never, never happen to us, we were long trained to clean after ourselves. Since his bedroom door was open I went in and sat next to my brother's bed, he looked tired. He had few words at home but did make my mom agree to hire a helper so my sister could go look for one.
     I called my sister to come in to give my brother a good massage.  She came in and asked if it was what he wanted, she was very careful and a little reserved, I said, yes I could feel his neck was so tight. She asked my brother to turn around on his stomach so she could work on his back.  I was massaging his neck while my sister was working on his back. My mom showed up at the door right away, she rushed over to me and stopped me from whatever I was doing.  She took over and said I was not doing it right. So I was watching two of them working on my brother.  My brother was just lying there and said nothing. We all loved him for sure, he has been a very good brother.  My sister said it might hurt a little since my brother's back is so tight.  I know I would scream when my sister was working on my back. But my brother did not say a word.
     While he was home for two days, he went food shopping Carrefour, a French multinational retailer, he bought me a piece of walnut soft candy, asking me to try it and it was very good, not sweet which is what most Asians wanted. I bought some roasted fava beans from Zigong, he liked. It reminded us of our childhood. After the massage, my brother was in a hurry to catch his flight back.  I had to take out my banana bread out to cut him a piece so he could take it with him.
     Now my brother was gone, I was hoping to move back to his room so I could sleep at night, surprised us all, my mom moved into my brother's room. She said my sister also snores. My sister said her family told her sometimes she snores. I thought my mom was giving me trouble again.  I said I would move in with my sister then.  My father was unhappy, he said "you could sleep anywhere you want".  Oops, I said, OK, I do not have many days left, I will stay in dad's room then.  His snores can't be more noise than trying to sleep on airplanes. My father smiled, he nodded his head and agreed with me. I have to say the first night was the most difficult night, after that it seemed he did not snore that much and not all the time.  When he was quiet, I started to worry.  I was trying so hard to hear his breathing.  Then he made a little sound, I was relieved again.
     I did not realized my brother's socks upset my father, my mom or dad (not sure who) washed my brother's old socks by hand after my brother left.  After drying, my father fold the socks and showed to my mom in front of me.  Ying's family uses this kind of socks as floor mops, she brought some old socks her sons wore for your son to wear. My mom did not say anything, I was upset and replied to him " That is right, we used old socks to mop the floor, if he does not tell me he liked the socks, I would not know, right?  I could buy some to mail them to him if you like."  My father did not say a word walked away.  He was saying that I should have thought about my brother even if he was not asking or reply to me.
     To make my father happy, right after I came back to US, I bought two packs of cotton socks plus an expensive pair of leather shoes for my brother.  Weining brought them back to my brother for me, she happened to come to Boston for a meeting right after I came back to the US , then went back to Chengdu to help her sick father.  Her father and my parents were college mates and they worked together till they retired, and they also lived near each other.  She wanted to add one package for my dad, my mom, and my sister since she planned to bring them something. I told her 'no' so they would not be upset again for me telling her the socks story.
     The next day my sister and I went out to the first senior aide office, interviewed the first woman who was 46 years old.  She was already helping a family after 3 PM so if we needed her any time before, that would be good.  We told her that we had two more persons to see in the afternoon and would get back to her. When we got home for lunch, we told our parent's about the woman we saw.  My father suddenly changed his mind about 4-5 hrs each day.  He told us that he needed to have 3 hot meals, home cleaning twice a week.  His change tossed our 3 people we just found.  We needed a 12 hours aide from 7 AM to 7 PM to cover 3 meals plus all the cleanings he needs.  We called the first woman we saw, she said she would have her mom drop off her kid to school so she could come at 7 AM but she will still need to leave at 2:30 PM the latest. We call the other two back, they told us they could only start at 9AM for 3-4 hours when their kids are in school. We have to start our search all over. My mom stopped the whole thing by saying they would not need any help, they could do everything themselves.  She was upset and firm!  My father backed out completely after my mom spoke. He now agreed with my mom, as long as my mom was not out all the time.  Two of them could manage everything.  But the fact still remained, they could not do everything, My sister and I were gone one night, when we came back, their rooms were steaming because the water in the kitchen was boiling for who know how long, my parents were watching TV.  The sound was blasting so that they could not even hear what we tried to say. I told my brother about what happened, he asked me to leave him all the information we had. I have been washing dishes since I got back, my sister was cooking.  I also cleaned every room including floors, window and doors and I could see my father was happy to see me cleaning.
Chimonanthus praecox (腊梅 làméi in Chinese)
     When I was in Chengdu and Zigong, I saw and smelled one of my favorite flowers blooming; it was Chimonanthus praecox (腊梅 làméi in Chinese), also known as wintersweet or Japanese allspice, a native to China. It has always symbolized pretty and strong women in Chinese poems, because it blooms in the winter.

     Another was Magnolia × alba, also known as White Champaca, white sandalwood, or the white jade orchid tree. I asked about these white, very fragrant flowers. I know it was not blooming time but I bought them before, so I was looking for them again.  My sister and my cousins were laughing at me, they said I must have mixed up the times since the flower was blooming in the summer. But I insisted that I bought some from a old lady who carried a small bamboo basket.  No one believed me so I had to give up.  Two days before I left Chengdu, on the way back from our shopping, my sister and I saw the lady again, she was right there, almost the same spot selling the flowers.  I was so excited and ran over to her.  She turned out to be the same lady from whom I bought the flowers 5 years ago, still the same price, one yuan for two. I bought 10 yuan worth.  The flowers came from a warmer place, Panzhihua (攀枝花), in the southern part of my province.  She was so happy and told us that we must have fate (缘分) since she carried her small basket wandering in the city.  She told me she had 3 sons, one of her sons paid over 30,000 yuan fine to keep his second son.  She emptied all her bank account to help her son but still her son's marriage did not survive.  Now the government allows two children but her low income could not pay her bills so she kept working and walking all over the city.  She was my father's age but much more healthy and happy.

Magnolia × alba


Chengdu's new subway, seniors free from 9AM - 5PM
       My mom has been very defensive since I got back, she does not like me talk to anyone.  When I was talking to my aunt she was wondering what we talked about. When I thought she did not hear me she did. When I thought she was confused, she was very clear in mind. She mentioned one thing I did not know about my aunt after we got back to Chengdu. She said when she went back to deliver our youngest sister, my aunt was upset from something.  She actually left her home and went to her older sister's place back in year of 1968. My uncle was very upset, their sky was crashing down without her. My mom was due any day, My grandpa was lying in bed, my grandma with bounded feet, their 3 kids plus me. 8 people needed her to feed, only she was capable to accomplish this task while working full time. I never remembered or saw my uncle or my aunt ever upset, my uncle was such a easy going person. Yes, my aunt talked a lot, but she did all the housework. My mom did not feel a bit sorry for her as if it was her job. I only remembered my grandpa died and my sister was born around the same time, not knowing my aunt left home for a few days. My mom loves her older brother unconditionally. He saved the whole family by working instead of continuing his higher education. He refused to marry till all his siblings finished college and he turned 30 years old. I had to tell my mom that I am on her side to make her happy.  The truth is that my aunt is really  an incredible woman.  She still has a very clear mind, good hearing and is free to go out walking, taking the bus to wherever. They do not have any kids living close by, one 90 and one 88 years old, they lived a very good life together. They are our examples and we all need to learn from them.
     I was very stressed that I have not really getting close to my mom and I am leaving the next day. Around 2:30 PM, my mom called me over to sit next to her. Ow, I was so happy, rushed over to her.  She started to show me her book with a big magnifying glass, the same book a Japanese wrote and was translated into Chinese, it was her bible. She started to read the book slowly with her magnifying glass.  Her older brother too, refused to wear glasses or a hearing aid, he used the same kind of magnifying glass to read. Two of them sat on the sofa reading with magnifying glasses, my aunt said to me "the two do belong to the same family".  I laughed.
     I sat next to my mom leaning over her shoulder listening.  It was like our old days every time I called her, she read to me on the phone, newsletter or book, it could last over an hour.  I looked at her face close, my poor mother, she lost a lot of weight and really aged. She was thinking about the pharmacist Mr Wu's wife Zhang back in USA.  Her feet kept growing a big blister, no one knows why but it is very painful.  I felt my father was jealous about Mr Wu since I was close to him.  I thought my mom too since she refused to talk to them when I was talking to them.  Now my mom gave me 4 bottles of one kind, another few sheets of different kinds of pills, filled up my last space of my carry on.  She thought about her, she wanted to ease her pain.  I put my hand over her head telling her one strand of her hair was up, I just needed to pat them down.  She did not refuse my touch and I felt so happy I could be close to her again like we used to be.  My sister was passing by after finishing giving my father a massage in his room, she put her thumb up and smiled to me.  My mom refused her massage, but it did help my father a lot since he has a disc on his back in the wrong place. He could not walk straight, also improve his hand and feet numbness.
    After dinner, I told my father that I will sleep with my sister in my mom's room since I had to leave at 4 AM in the morning.  This way we would not disturb them.  My father said he would be up anyway.  Boy, my mother was right, my sister does snore, not much better than my father since I am much closer to her on the same bed.  I did not sleep much again.  About 3:30 AM next morning, my mom got up and we were all surprised.  My mom stuffed a set of home aid set for back pain with herbs into a extra bag that I carried with extra clothes.  I pushed my mom back to my brother's room, helped her back to her bed.  I hugged her really tight and gave her a kiss on each side of her cheek. She pushed me away, and said "we do not do that."  I then covered her with her blankets while she sat on the bed.  I held her hands, "Mom, please talk to me when I call you like you used to."  Please take your blood pressure pills everyday, you could live very long if you get your blood pressure under control.  No skipping the pills please.  Then I saw my father walk out of his room, I then pushed him back to his room, helped him back to his bed.  I hugged him very tight and also kissed him on the cheeks, he kissed back on my cheeks and we both started to cry.  I asked him to take the best care of himself, stay calm and let things go.  I will be back soon, make sure wait for me.
     My sister helped me with my 50 lbs suitcase, my backpack was heavy too plus a bag of clothes now stuffed full.  We had booked a taxi last night, asking him to wait at the gate at 4 AM to take us to the airport.  He did not show up so my sister called him, he did not pick up the phone.  So we started to walk towards the main road, a taxi came by so we stopped him.  He happened to be coming from my father's hometown, working as a taxi driver in my city over 5 years.  I asked him if he used to live in the south with very high humility, he was fine, then he said he needed to fill up the gas, only 5 minutes.  I started to get nervous since he was getting off the highway.  After a short drive, he did stop at a gas station.  We stepped out of the car so he could fill the gas, I did not know he was filling up real natural gas in liquid form, not petroleum.  He later said since Sichuan has abundant natural gas, all taxis use natural gas, one fill could run a little over 270 kilometers.  It also reminded me about what my father had told me about natural gas.  In his life time, they were the only one and others were begging them for the natural gas.  Now Russian gas entered China, one of their gas companies went bankrupt due to the competition.  Now they have salesmen out there selling gas.
     My return flight was smooth; two of my sons went back to college already, only Joe was home for a few more days.  Anthony's father was scheduled for his surgery the day after I returned.  He was diagnosed with colon cancer.  Anthony planned to drive home to help his father for a week and he did.  I was a little surprised that his mother sent me an email thanking me for borrowing my husband for a week.  I replied that it was his duty since he was her son.  I went back to China for 3 weeks and my sister was still there since last May.  When I was there, my father actually mentioned a daughter of one of his colleagues actually quit her job in order to take care of her parents.  I replied to him that every family is different, I was sure his daughter did was her best choice.  The neighbors all blamed us that we married too far away and now my parents agreed with them.
     A famous phrase says "少不入蜀, 老不出川" which means "When you are young, do not enter Sichuan. When you are old, do not leave Sichuan". Young men from the North would enter Sichuan, and they would soon marry Sichuan's beautiful girls, and would never return to the North and forgot about their own families in the North. My father is a perfect example.
    The good news finally came this February, my brother's request for caring for his aging parents came through. He was transferred back to his home city at the end of February. My parents and my sister were overjoyed. Finally my sister came back to the US, and her family, her in-laws were very happy as well. My brother works during the day, and returns to my parents home everyday. He shops and cooks, and on the weekend, he would do all the cleaning. My father told me that my mom still ordered her health pills, just much less now. The only thing he felt uneasy was that my brother was spending his money covering all their expenses. He refused to take money from my father. I told him not to worry since my brother could afford to take care of them. My sister and I would try to come to see them soon.
    Everything worked for a while, my father's mobility was getting worse and worse. My brother brought him a wheelchair. He went back to the Hua Xi hospital for a short stay and brought back the hospital aide with him.  She is only 52 years old with 4 children, grandchildren and a great grandchild already. She came from the Guang'an (广安) where Deng Xiaoping was born. She stays with my father 24/7 except when my brother is off on Saturday and Sunday. She sleeps on the little bed where I slept for a few days when I was there. She also cooks and cleans for my parents.
     My father is happy,  not my mother.  She did not like this a bit and she wants her out of her house. My father told her that she could use his apron but my mom took it away from her.  She put it on herself, on the top she also put her own apron on, so she was wearing two different aprons.  My father gave some money to the maid and told her to buy one for herself.  Then said to my mom "Jufen, go take a look at yourself, you looks like a crazy lady. I needed her to help me since my hands and feet do not work well and you could not help me. If you make her leave and I have to hire another aide, it is difficult to find a good one for the right price. My mother would not eat the meal she cooked, my brother did not come back that night so my mom left home.  One of our neighbors ran into her on the street; he was concern since it was so late already.  He talked to her and took her back to the gate. He told the security guard sent my mom home.  My mom refused; she said she did not want to go back home.  My father was home worrying about where my mom went, finally saw the officers take my mom home at midnight.
     My father called my brother the next morning "Jie, you need to come home and talk to your mother".  My brother said "I will come back tonight and take a day off tomorrow since I worked last night, I have to work today and everything is already in motion at the airport.  My father still insisted that my brother comes back home to talk to my mom and my brother did make it back home in the morning.  My mom now only listens to my brother. My father ended up giving my mom money so she could walk to the senior dining to eat her 3 meals since she refused to eat the meals made by the maid.  But the senior dining hall closes on the weekend. One day my mom came back early without eating. She saw my father and the maid were eating breakfast, the maid got up right away, remembering it was Saturday.  She went to the kitchen and got a half bowl of porridge and apologized to my mom that she forgot about the day of the week and did not cook enough, now she was going to warm up the steamed buns for my mom too.  My mom did not sit down, but picked up the chopsticks and threw them back to the table.  "I am not eating" and walked away.
     Later when the maid cooked dinner, my mom complained "that big pile of spinach you cooked, just this little back to the table? you are eating while cooking, right?.  The maid opened her mouth but failed to say a word.  My father said, the spinach shrinks so much after cooking, you should know. Plus she eats with us anyway, if she ate in the kitchen, she would eat less at the table, right?.
     When the maid cleans the house, my mom would follow her around and point out where it was not clean.  The maid would clean one more time, by the end, she said the towel she was using was too dirty. My father said there are new ones in the cabinet, take a new one.  My father said "She was trying to pick bones out of an egg".
     My mom still refused to talk to me, every time I talked to my father.  He said "your mom still thinks you do not want her to buy those health pills so she would not talk to you, she still spent all her pension on them". I was blamed for something I did not do since she mixed up me and my sister. She used to read her health literature on the phone to me but now she reads to my sister. Once she thought I was my sister and talked to me, but if I she heard my name, she would hang up the phone.  On the other hand, I really do not want to pretend that I was my sister talking to her. As my father said, his body does not work well anymore and my mom's brain does not work well. They both are sick and need help. My mom just needs to get over the fact that there is female, younger than me her oldest daughter, who sleeps in his room. He does not have a better choice to please my mom at this point.
Starbucks offers to pay health insurance for parents of some China employees : It is required under China's "Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly" law that family members provide for the financial and medical needs of their parents.  My grandmother's health was covered under my parents health benefits from their work back in the 1970s, so this is not new.