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May 6, 2011

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Memorable moms

IT'S a time to buy mom a bunch of flowers, take her to dinner, pick up the phone to say "I love you," or send a card thanking her for putting up with you all these years.

This Sunday is Mother's Day and though it originated in the United States, it has become popular in China where respect for elders and filial piety are part of traditional culture.

Shanghai Daily interviews people from various walks of life - a farmer, rocker, writer, professor, business woman, designer and musician - and asks them about their mothers.

All were much more relaxed and easygoing than parents today.

Jiang Wei

boutique owner, 34

Jiang has a very good relationship with her 66-year-old mother Nie Renci, and they talk about everything just like friends.

She got married in 2006, and before that she lived with the family. Today she still visits her mother regularly, sharing afternoon tea and discussing books and their favorite author Yi Shu in Hong Kong.

"We are more like close friends, especially when my mom is in a low mood and needs comfort," Jiang says. "I was very mature at a very young age because my mom always talked to me like an adult. She taught me to think maturely and to be elegant all the time."

Jiang, who runs a fashion boutique, says her sense of style comes partly from her mother who even today dresses elegantly.

But not all the messages from her mother were positive.

Her parents had a difficult marriage and quarreled a lot. Nie frequently confided in her daughter and as she got older, mother would call daughter to unburden herself when she was distressed.

"She is my mom who gave me life; I love her and want to comfort her, but for such a long time I was also under pressure, like her. For a long time I felt I was an emotional rubbish bin for her and I felt very unhappy."

Those negative messages about marriage have persuaded Jiang to have a DINK (double income, no kid) marriage, at least so far.

"I don't have confidence I could give my child a happy life," she says.

(Nie Xin)

Jenny Ji

fashion designer, 30s

Shanghai designer Ji doesn't want to talk about her own mother, she won't say why. But she does want to talk about her own motherhood - she has a 1-year-old son, Jeff.

Ji, who is in her 30s, describes her self as "passionate, emotional and spontaneous."

In fact, Ji, like many people in the fashion industry, was once against the idea of becoming a mother and wanted to focus on her own career.

"But life with a child is much better than I thought," she says. "He is the best gift from God ... and he makes my life complete."

She enjoys the moment when Jeff falls asleep on her shoulder. She thinks, "How cute, just like a little toy."

Spending time with Jeff is at the top of her list. "He's on my mind all the time," she says. "I never believed it before, but now when I come home from work and see him, I forget all the pressure and tiredness."

"He also makes me realize that there's happiness from purely 'giving,' without expecting anything in return," she adds. "I'm happy because he's happy."

Life is rosy for the designer, who recently opened a restaurant specializing in fusion Chinese seafood on Sinan Road. She calls it "another baby."

"I don't plan for life," she says. "When God gives me a gift, I accept it, treasure it, and try my best to nurture it, help it grow. I really enjoy the process, and feel so grateful."

(Michelle Zhang)

Hua Luodan

rocker, 27

The main vocal of the Shanghai rock band Da Bei (Great Sorrow) was once a rebel who cut class, skipped school and ran away from home many times.

"My mother showed great tolerance, because she knew I would come back when I was hard up for cash," the rocker says, grinning. "Each time I came home, she acted like nothing had happened." The mother Tang Danxin, 57, was the stabilizer in the family.

"I was cranky, ready to go off like a powder barrel," says Hua. "When my father and I had big fights, my mother acted like a mediator, soothing two angry men."

In a typical Chinese family, the father is the dominator while the mother is the conciliator.

When teenage Hua fell in love with music, his grades tumbled but his mother still paid his private singing tutor around 600 yuan (today US$92) to support his dream of singing.

"My mother said 'no' when I told her I wanted to sing, but she still gave me the money," he recalls.

After college, Hua became a bar singer and his parents were furious. There was a big fight, then both sides compromised. Hua was a bank-clerk by day and sang with a rock band at night in a bar.

"I understand, parents always want their children to have a stable life and stable income," he says.

As for Mother's Day, he says, "She told me the best gift I could give her was to live a happy and peaceful life."

(Wing Tan)

Song Siheng

concert pianist, 30

Shanghai native Song is considered one of the top pianists of his generation. He graduated from l'Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, and has won numerous prizes both in and outside China.

After spending nine years in Paris, he is trying to spend more time with his parents who never visited him in Europe. They stayed in touch through phone calls and webcam online chats.

"Now I'm back and my mom treats me like a child," he says. "She cooks all kinds of traditional Shanghainese dishes for me, does my laundry and even packs for me when I travel.

"Like most Chinese, we're reserved expressing our feelings ... but love is always there; you can always feel it," he adds.

Song's mother used to be an accountant and was very strict, rarely praising him, not even for his international awards. "Ever since I was little, I have been used to her only talking about my flaws," he says.

"I used to be a naughty kid, playing truant, hiding classmates' stuff and fighting ... It wasn't easy for her to make me who I am today. It was my mother who taught me to be an upright person, to always think of others and be a gentleman."

When Song was in primary school, he spent all his money to buy her a gift, a model boat - she has kept it to this day.

For this Mother's Day, "Maybe I'll just take her to the park for a walk if the weather is nice, and we can have a nice meal together," he says.

(Michelle Zhang)

Pan Guiying

farmer, 51

Pan is helping her 91-year-old bed-ridden mother eat lunch. Six months ago, she suffered a stroke and since then Pan has been looking after her night and day.

"If my mother could speak clearly these days, she wouldn't call me obedient," Pan says.

Like most village children in Beiqiao, Minhang District, Pan grew up running in green fields and playing in the river. She used to run barefoot, catching fish and picking fruit.

"My mother seldom disciplined us, she gave us a lot of freedom," says Pan, the baby of the family with a brother 19 years older and sister 14 years older than she.

"She told me to become an honest person. That's what she taught me," Pan says.

When she was quite young Pan got into a big fight with a boy from the next village; her head was badly cut and her hair was shaved so the wound could be dressed. "My mother didn't scold me. I was frightened that she would be mad but she just smiled and told me not to run around before the wound was healed. She joked that a bald girl isn't good looking."

"If it were not for the 'cultural revolution' (1966-1976), my mother was going to send me to college," Pan says. "She always believed that books can inspire and enlighten."

(Tan Weiyun)

Gu Xiaoming

retired professor, 66

Professor Gu, a historian and sociologist from Fudan University, is the "go-to" commentator for many media about many social issues, known for his insightful and sometimes pungent comments.

Gu's mother, now in her 90s, was illiterate, but she successfully reared six children. Gu and his brother Gu Jun are both famed scholars in Shanghai.

Gu remembers a happy and stress-free childhood, unlike that of many children today who are under extreme parental pressure to excel. "My mother never pushed us to do things that we didn't like," Professor Gu recalls. "But whenever we showed new interests in painting, carving, calligraphy or photography, she spared no effort to support us."

Gu says that his mother always respected her children's individuality and their own decisions and choices in career and marriage.

"Many years ago, on the first day of my campus life at Fudan University, my mother came along with me, carrying a heavy suitcase full of clothes and other things," Gu recalls. "That was her way of expressing love and care for me, silent but sweet."

He considers his mother to be his first mentor. "I am still working hard because my life is an extension of my mother and she has become part of me," Gu says. "I wish her health and longevity, and we won't let her down."

(Xu Wei)


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