Brian greeting A Ling and her super sweet and intelligent daughter, Yang Lu
A Ling, affectionately known by everyone as Sister A Ling, is the manager of our bar and known as being both welcoming and very capable. She greets people with a hospitable grin that reveals a hint of playfulness and loves to chat with anyone about anything, especially local traditions. A Ling is a Xizhou native who grew up right in the middle of the Xizhou Old Town and continues to live there with her mom, husband, and two children.
She began working full-time when she was young, not even finishing high school because her family could not afford it. At one point, she and her sister moved to Kunming to work as waitresses for a few years before her mom decided she missed them too much and asked them to come back home to Xizhou. In this regard, her story is not too unique from many of her peers who left for work and ended up coming back home later in life. However, her views on life are quite different and in our day and age, I think, refreshing.
A Ling and Yang Lu – don’t worry, she doesn’t serve the alcohol!
As someone who has spent over 30 years here, what do you love about Xizhou?
Wow, that’s so hard. . . I love a lot. I guess if I had to choose, I would say food. My kids love this local dish I learned from my sister, pickled vegetables and local carp. Two other dishes I love are 粉蒸肉, fen’zheng’rou a type of steamed pork, and 千张肉, qian’zhang’rou tofu skin sautéed with pork.
Where do you see yourself in 5, 10 years?
You know, my sister actually is a successful businesswoman and has asked me again and again to join her in business but I don’t think it’s for me. I just don’t have the business savvy.
I’m the kind of person that, once I’m committed to something, I stay committed unless something really drastic happens. I’m happy here at the Centre – each employee is really valued here and has their own say – and so, hopefully in 5-10 years, I’ll still be here. In fact, Brian asked if I could work here til I’m 60 . . . I don’t know about that, when I’m 60, he’ll probably be 80!
What about your children? What are your expectations for them?
A lot of parents nowadays, especially those with money, really pressure their kids to learn, learn, learn all the time. They make their kids attend Saturday school and every evening they take their kids to art lessons, music lessons, extra tutoring, etc. I think that’s too much. That way, children might learn a lot of book smarts but they don’t really know how to interact with people. They have a lot of knowledge but don’t know what to do with it. I don’t want my kids to be like that – not only do they lose their childhood, but they also don’t really gain much of value, I think.
I know many parents also want their children to be rich and famous someday. I don’t really agree. If you’re rich and famous, you also have a lot of pressure. What’s the point of being rich? There are many rich people in the cities who are stressed all the time, who have tons of worries and bad tempers. It seems like the majority of people in the city have issues like depression and anxiety because their jobs are very stressful and what’s the point of having money if you’re not healthy? People spend their money on treating the illnesses that come with it.
This might sound simple-minded or bad but I think if you have enough to eat, a place to sleep, and can take care of your family, that’s enough. All you need is enough to eat and the ability to fall asleep at night – and that’s what I hope for my children.
I suspect that for many of our readers, as it was for me, this perspective might seem a bit foreign. As someone who has recently gone through the mad rush of trying to find a job or fellowship after college, the idea of having just enough to eat well and sleep well just seems, well, unnatural. But perhaps we would do well to heed A Ling’s wisdom; after all, aren’t we just striving and working hard to find some sort of peace, some sort of happiness? What if what we are truly searching for is not in that next job, or raise, or partner, or move to that nicer home but in some pickled vegetables and carp with our loved ones?