Ma Taitai

Last week I made a quick trip up to Changchun to visit some friends and do a workshop for some folks studying Chinese.  Since I lived in Changchun for 8 years in the 1990’s, trips there always have a bit of a ‘going home’ feel for me.

My time in the city was very short, so tops on my list was paying a visit to Ma Taitai, the woman who had been my baomu (housekeeper) for 6 years.

She’s 83 now and lives in a small apartment by herself.  She has 2 daughters that have begged her to live with them, but she will have none of it.  She’s not about to leave her beloved zaoshi (morning market) and friends who come daily to play mahjong. To say she’s a free spirit would be an understatement.

One of her daughters took me to visit her on Friday afternoon, and we had a wonderful couple of hours together. When I arrived she gave me a big hug and said “my American daughter!” Then she sat me down opposite her, grabbed my hands and leaned forward.  “You know I’m 83 now.  When am I going to get to come to Beijing to attend your wedding?  I really want to do that, you know!”  I laughed and assured her that were I to get married in Beijing, I would definitely invite her, but I also suggested that she better not be sitting around waiting for that to happen.”  She sucked her teeth in exasperation!

Once we had that settled we moved on to talking about all the other American families she worked for in the 1990’s, especially the babies that she had cared for. Where were they? What were they doing? Which kids were married now? There are photos of everyone of them on her fridge and she can still rattle off every single (Chinese) name.

She had me in stitches telling stories of her time with the foreigners and commenting on everyone’s Chinese ability (or lack thereof, in her opinion).  I suggested that she should write a book, an idea she thought was absurd.

Never mind what she thinks….the next time I go up there I will have tape-recorder in hand to capture her stories.