…because not all of us have our Peking ducks in a row

Hells Bell’s Palsy: The Symptoms of a Chinese Mother


Let’s just say this is Annie before Bell’s Palsy.

Bell’s palsy “is a form of facial paralysis resulting from a dysfunction of the …facial nerve… causing an inability to control facial muscles on the affected side…It is thought that an inflammatory condition leads to swelling of the facial nerve…Often the eye in the affected side cannot be closed. The eye must be protected from drying up…in some cases denture wearers experience some discomfort”.  (Source: Wikipedia)

In the Chinese culture, Bell’s Palsy may also manifest itself in the offspring of over-protective mothers, whose paranoid attempts at shielding their children from harm may have the opposite effect of creating a Chinese hell on earth for their kids, complete with the child’s crippling fear of touching a doorknob with bare hands, in case she contracts the Bubonic plague, or her knee-jerk desire to thank Buddha every time she isn’t struck by a wayward steel beam plummeting to the ground while walking underneath a highrise that’s under construction.   (Source: Susan’s sister, Annie)

In 2012, during our mother’s two-week stay with Annie, medical history was made when Annie awoke one morning to find that the muscles on the left half of her face had left town, having decided it needed a vacation from our mother, while the rest of her body stayed behind out of Chinese-mother-induced guilt.  The “inflammatory condition” which led to the “swelling of the facial nerve” on Annie’s face had a pulse and a name – Mother Chang.

Annie, after Bell's Palsy.  (Courtesy: Bill the Cat)

Annie, after Bell’s Palsy.

Now, you Italians, East Indians and Jews may think you have the market cornered on the stereotypically overbearing mother, but there is nothing stereotypical about a Chinese mother.   We Chinese model our mothers after our home-made rice wine – 140-proof and hazardous to your health, with the strong possibility of blindness, loss of speech and basic motor skills.  And here’s why —

Absence of Logic, Certainty of Death/Impending Doom

Having lived in China for 7 years, I’ve had my share of deer penises, fried silkworm pupae and being ambushed at the ATM or harassed on the street, but none was more traumatic than being locked in a bathroom stall with my mother for 20 minutes when I was 8 years old.  It was traumatic on many levels:

1.  My mother had dressed me – in several layers of scratchy thermal underwear, then a bright yellow sweatshirt, then a cheap suede fringed vest, a matching fringed skirt, topped with a large cowboy hat I couldn’t see out of, a leather satchel decorated with pink flowers and too-big clogs with kitten heels.

2.  My mother had insisted I go to the bathroom, even though I didn’t want to go, but I really needed to go.  We fought over this for about 5 minutes, took another 10 minutes to find the bathroom, then were locked inside the bathroom together for another 20 minutes, most of which was spent listening to my mother plead for help, saying she didn’t want to die with her young fashion victim of a child inside a public bathroom, where the only water source was from a broken toilet.

3.  The 4′ x 4′ dingy bathroom was in the basement of a turn-of-the-century retail building, back when the years started with a “18-“.  We were visiting my Aunt Gloria who owned a store selling macrame plant holders, beaded door dividers, funky incense, and leather satchels and belts decorated with big flowers and vines.  Her store was located in what we now call a daylight basement part of the building, while the bathroom was located in the dungeon.  Today, the entire basement of the building would be what paranormal experts would call a hotbed of supernatural activity.

4.  My mother tried to think outside of the box that was the toilet stall.  As there was no access underneath the bathroom door, she believed the only way out was up and over the walls of the stall.

When attempting to climb onto a toilet and its water tank, kitten-heeled clogs are not the shoes of choice and overdressed eight-year-olds are not the prime candidates.  The noise generated from my falling, shattering the water tank, nearly flushing myself and my clogs down the toilet, and my subsequent wailing finally led someone to rescue us.  Someone, who slowly and carefully explained to my Chinese mother that the bathroom door was just a little sticky, and all it needed was a good push to open.

Mother Martyr May I?

Have this nutritious chicken broth I stayed up all night making for you.  It’s good for your chi…no, no…I’m OK.  I’ll just have this rice gruel and this leftover chicken from 3 weeks ago…at least…I think it’s chicken.  Hard to tell with all the hairs and green on it.  (This is followed by a dry heaving cough commonly emitted by people with terminal pulmonary tuberculosis.)

After I wash your father’s clothes and his car, pick up the mail at the post office, pay the phone bill and marinade the meat for dinner, I’ll have some time to mop the floors and hem your pants.  No, it’s OK, I can get to it today.  Rest is only good for people who are dead.”

When I die, I want you to remember how much your mother loved you by:

calling you everyday, sometimes three times a day in succession, because I couldn’t remember what I was really calling about the first two times

re-arranging all the canned and dried goods in your pantry according to size and color and not according to product

washing and folding your laundry and putting them away in the wrong drawers

cleaning your desk without asking, so that you can’t find your checkbook, house keys and cell phone

stocking your fridge and pantry with things you don’t know how to cook and will never use: dried fungus and red dates, dried longan, tapioca balls, preserved asparagus root, barley…

insisting on cooking all your meals then complaining you don’t have the right stove, pots and pans, soy sauce…

not blogging about you

The Professional Chinese Mother

In Taiwan on weekday evenings from 7pm till midnight, my mother would watch a succession of noisy Asian soap operas, which all have the common themes of crying, fainting and yelling.  The families are not normal: everyone is beautiful and someone is always suffering from a catastrophic illness or amnesia/suicidal/trying to win back a lost love/running from mobsters or himself.

There’s usually also the character of a busybody middle-aged lady – a comic foil – who  dresses garishly, with horn-rimmed glasses hung around her neck, or a large purse that she clutches close to her body.  This character gossips, dispenses unwanted advice and gets into everyone’s business.  Her own children treat her with a kind of comic exasperation and stay away from her, while her husband either cajoles her or becomes catatonic from her over-nagging.  When I told my mother that she reminded me of these motherly characters on the show, she glared at me and said that she wished she were one of these mothers on the show, because then her kids would be like the ones on the shows – highly-respected doctors giving prostate exams to the poor in Ghana and calling their mother every week and doing exactly what their mother had told them to do.

Do You Have A Chinese Mother?

To help you determine whether you have a Professional Chinese Mother, feel free to take this short quiz:

1.  From far away, I see a big, bright and noisy object coming towards me.  I think it is _____.

a)  Donald Trump.
b)  gas.
c)  some bad Chinese food I ate for lunch.
d)  my Chinese mother who is looking for me, because I left the house without my jacket, even though it’s over 30C outside .

2.  Red is to red, as a Chinese mother is to _______.

a)  drama.
b)  martyr.
c)  close-toed shoes.
d)  Episcopalian.

3.  The dish your Chinese mother has cooked for supper is terrible.  You ______.

a)  froth at the mouth, fall to the ground and assume a fetal position.
b)  continue eating as if everything’s OK and hope the food poisoning will last for only 24 and not 36 hours.
c)  create a diversion, such as snatching your father’s toupee from his head and throwing it into the fish tank.
d)  unload your portion onto your sister’s plate when she’s not looking and sanitizing all of her utensils and seating area with Lysol wet wipes.

4.  Assuming that you chose “A” for your answer in question 3 – your Chinese mother reacts by ______.

a)  smelling the dish, then asking your father to taste it.
b)  accusing your sister’s wet wipes of causing epileptic seizures.
c)  accusing you of not eating the bird’s nest soup she made yesterday, which could have prevented such seizures.
d)  nudging your inert body with her foot and asking whether you need a jacket while laying on the floor.

5.  You bring your boyfriend home to meet the parents for the first time.  Your mother _____.

a)  froths at the mouth, falls to the floor, and assumes a fetal position.
b)  continues eating, as if everything’s OK and hopes that your relationship will last for only 24 and not the 36 days it usually does.
c)  creates a diversion, such as snatching your father’s toupee from his head and throwing it into the fish tank.
d)  starts sanitizing your exposed skin, your boyfriend and your seating area with Lysol wet wipes.

Mom and I...before the fringe.

Mom and I…before the fringe.  (I also pioneered the high-waisted look, courtesy of my mother.)

Related Posts:

Lies My Superstitious Chinese Mother Told Me & the Longevity Panty

Things My Elderly Chinese Parents Say to Me

Teaching My Elderly Chinese Parents the Computer

28 comments on “Hells Bell’s Palsy: The Symptoms of a Chinese Mother

  1. Dan Harayda
    May 9, 2016

    (All) Moms still complain even if you do become a lawyer or doctor… Trust me I know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lostnchina
      May 10, 2016

      I think the main hurdle is that we should be a doctor/lawyer AND listen to what our mother says, even if it is contradictory to our lawyer/doctor training.


  2. lostnchina
    May 6, 2016

    Reblogged this on lostnchina and commented:

    Something to show your mom you care….


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  6. Edna
    March 27, 2013

    “while the rest of her body stayed behind out of Chinese-mother-induced guilt.” SNORT. Luckily I don’t have as overbearing a Chinese mother as most people do, something I am even more grateful for when I read posts like this! 🙂


    • lostnchina
      March 27, 2013

      Kudos to you! My mother would never have let me rest had I just “popped up” back home unannounced after 2 years of being away, like you did. I shudder to think about it.


  7. keiththegreen
    March 25, 2013

    My Ukrainian mother must have absorbed the Chinese mother symptoms from my father who was Chinese. I grew up thinking a sweater was an article of clothing, I put on when my mother felt a chill. Public bathrooms were one touch away from giving me the bubonic plague. Also a 99% on a test at school meant failure. So reading this brought back memories, which now bring a smile to my face, the cringes are now long gone.


    • lostnchina
      March 26, 2013

      Your recollection about wearing the sweater because your mom was cold makes me think about the differences between Chinese and Western parents: Chinese parents bundle their little kids in as much clothing as is humanly possible to put on a child, without having him/her fall over – while Western parents might be wearing jackets or coats and their kids are running around in a skirt without tights or short sleeved tshirts. My mother always thought this was something close to “abuse”. But really – is it more abusive to let your child wear as much clothing as she weighs or to let her wear what she wants?


  8. expatlingo
    March 25, 2013

    Thank God, I only had the youthful handicap of growing up in Utah.


    • lostnchina
      March 26, 2013

      You should look at Nat’s comment below about being Mormon. Were/are you Mormon? I don’t think so, at least with the IPAs you’re having in Hong Kong 🙂


      • expatlingo
        March 26, 2013

        My family was pure Mormon until I hit the tender age of 8. Then my parents revolted. My extended family is still very Mormon.


  9. Anonymous
    March 25, 2013

    I had Bell’s Palsy years ago… Was not fun.


    • lostnchina
      March 26, 2013

      Annie…is that you…?

      Fortunately, Bell’s Palsy is something you’re supposed to get over, which I hope you certainly did.


  10. smallestforest
    March 25, 2013

    Susan, it could possibly have been worse. Your parents could have been Mormons. My mother had one of those stores “selling macrame plant holders, beaded door dividers, funky incense, and leather satchels and belts decorated with big flowers and vines.” I didn’t own any clothing that was not tie-dyed until I was 12 and we had used up the stock of clothing after the shop went bankrupt. I had a BeeGees lunch box, but my missionary father wouldn’t let me listen to the radio (the devil was on it) so i didn’t know who the BeeGees were. I was raised on Peter, Paul and Mary.
    Funnily enough, I countered the effects of my childhood with double vodka martinis, too. It could be the next miracle panacea.


    • lostnchina
      March 26, 2013

      How could your mother have a store selling tie-dye when your dad was a missionary? Are there Mormons in the Philippines? I thought it was predominately Catholic. Looking at Elmer, you sure wouldn’t think so. If truth be known I was part of the child labor movement even before it was fashionable to do so. Even today, I can’t look at a bunch of string without thinking about how to macrame them together (though the results wouldn’t be pretty, believe me).


      • smallestforest
        March 26, 2013

        My bad, putting Mormons and my parents in one sentence…no, they are Catholics, and in their own innocent, bloodless, un-hip way, were ‘hippies’ of a sort, though without the commitment to drugs, free sex, and being penniless.
        I can’t look at macramé without getting hives. I didn’t do any laboring, but I think I was a model for the kids wear section. Corduroy and bell bottoms figured, too.
        Elmer is the perfect example of Catholicism…we are much more debauched a religion than Protestantism or any of those ‘Germanic’ versions of Christianity. 🙂


  11. You always make me wish I was Chinese!


    • lostnchina
      March 25, 2013

      I can arrange my mother to spend the day with you – I’ll even throw in half a dozen chicken claws. Only then can you exult in a truly Chinese mothering experience.


  12. thenakedlistener
    March 25, 2013

    Stark naked reality….


  13. gingerfightback
    March 25, 2013

    A surfeit of fringed clothing must have wrought a heavy price – Brilliant as always!


    • lostnchina
      March 25, 2013

      I think the fringed suede was also not treated properly. It stank, and the colors ran after getting wet (they were running away from the embarrassment of being on such a hideous thing).


  14. WSW
    March 25, 2013

    In the WASP world, the overbearing mother causes a similar though more extreme reaction, the condition commonly referred to as St Vitas’ Dance. This is extreme because dancing, as we all know, is extremely frowned upon in this universe. Happily, the most commonly applied cure is a series of double vodka martinis, applied until the victim passes out.


    • lostnchina
      March 25, 2013

      Wendie, are you sure you weren’t Chinese in a previous life?

      BTW, is there life after Beppe? The blogosphere is waiting!


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