• Vicky Zhuang Yi-Yin

Mama Cheeni

Updated: May 14, 2020

It is very common knowledge that my parents came to Pakistan in the 80s. Today, I wanted to tell you the story of my mother. Here is a picture of hers before she came to this country. This was also her first time in Beijing. Isn't she cute? I really want to steal that jacket she is wearing, but I don't know where it is anymore. From what I know, she was in the capital so that she could get a visa to come be with my dad, who had already come to Pakistan.

We all know that she got the visa, otherwise, I would not be born, and I don't know what would happen.


Her first point of entry to Pakistan was the Karachi airport, and then she had to fly to Lahore from there in the cold of February, 1988. That's when she met my dad for the first time. She had spoken to him over the phone and sent letters to each other. Unfortunately, I can't read Chinese, so I struck out on reading into their romance. Yes, I'm very naughty. They got married in Lahore in the same month. Here's them being cute together.

So my mom dropped everything; her life with her family, her work. her home in China, so that she could start a fresh chapter with her husband. She didn't speak Urdu, and not even English. All she knew back then was Cantonese (the one we speak at home) and Mandarin (the official language spoken in China). She didn't have a job. She didn't know anything, except that she was coming here to get married to my dad. He's handsome isn't he?


Mama Cheeni is a strong woman. She persevered. She quickly started to get her life jump started. In the late 80s, my mom became friends with a lot of expatriates, especially those who came from Malaysia and Singapore, and a lot of Chinese families that had settled here since pre-partition or post-partition (both with India and with East Pakistan). So communicating with new people was not that much of a problem. She then became friends with Aunty Hiltrud, who was a tall German woman and she learnt to speak English every Tuesday from her. I remember during holidays on Tuesday, mama would go over to her place just to learn that. She also became friends with one of our neighbors who started teaching her Urdu. Although, her Urdu is still weak, she's pretty ok with English and can get by pretty easily with that.


She then gave birth to me; and then two years and a month later, a boy. Ah! It seemed to be the perfect family for her. In my early memories, mama was just a housewife. So she was home all day, while papa would be out at work at a restaurant called Cathay Restaurant (It was one of the earliest restaurants of Lahore, but closed down when the family moved to Canada). I remember her in the kitchen of our old home, or mediating fights between my brother and I, because we were silly, stupid children constantly fighting. (He's the one who was always biting, and pulling my hair, and I was hitting him. We're both not innocent. Also, that's us. I was always weird so that has not changed.)


But then something changed. Papa decided to quit the restaurant and start his own restaurant business, and we moved from the old house. I have great memories of that house, but moving from there meant that something was about to change. Mama began to help papa with the restaurant, but business was not so good. My parents knew that it was important to have the business running because that was the only way it was going to help pay for our education. So, my mother decided to take over a friend's beauty parlor business. And hence becoming a stereotypical middle class Pakistani-Chinese family that owned a restaurant and a beauty parlor. But at the same time, this meant, sleepless nights, early wake up calls and always being on your toes.


Mama never had a day off since then until recent times. Working in the parlor from 9am to 7pm, and then on weekends, also going to the restaurant on school months, otherwise daily because my brother and I would go to the restaurant during our holidays at night. And that meant that she wouldn't be home until after 11.30pm and sleeping late, only to wake up early in the morning and repeat.


Things became easier only by a tad bit when the restaurant and the parlor moved into the same place in Main Market, Lahore. We lived in the restaurant and the parlor. It was a big house. My brother and I have fond memories of that place. But that was also where my brother and I became more of part time workers. While my brother only had to help in the restaurant. I had to join mama and do both.


Trust me, I would spend time in the parlor and see my mother work herself to the bone, even on days when she was not feeling well. The only thing that motivated her was making sure her family was able to take care of having a home, having food on the table, and the children being able to go to good schools.


Even now, when I tell her to relax, she will not. Her resilience is inspiring. She did not know how to drive at all. My father used to be the driver, and then later my brother, so she never thought she needed to learn. But in 2015, things changed. My father had gotten sick with a severe chronic kidney disease in 2009. By 2013, he had to start getting dialysis. My brother used to drive my father to the dialysis center, but he left for China in 2014. I was at work, so I couldn't do the moving around, so my mom began to use public transport. But that was so much of annoyance, even when I would try to help as much as possible. So, by 2015, my mom suddenly bought a car and then she learnt how to drive the car only so that she could drive her husband to get treatment.


This is my mother. She is resilient. Inspiring. Persevering. And she is always thinking about her family. But, she also makes time to think about herself. For her age, she does not look old at all. She is beautiful. Youthful. She is such a health buff, that she is always making sure that I don't fall into habits that will affect my health. By the way, that picture you see above, she still looks like that, but with longer hair right now.


It's Mother's Day today. And I thought I'd tell her story. As unique as her story is, I still feel that a lot of mothers have an overarching motivation guiding them. It may vary at different levels, but it always is the case that mothers mostly make choices not for their own benefit, but for their own families. So I wanted to take some time and say that I love this woman, I also want to give a huge shout out to all the mothers in the world. Keep up the great work. Happy Mother's Day!

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