Building on lessons of love from family

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Love comes in all shapes and sizes.

It can be near or far, spoken or unspoken, or in the form of a hug or a hot meal.

For Susan Hu, her grandmother Li Fang Teng was the “physical symbol” of love.

More than 35 years ago, Ms Hu and her family moved to Mosgiel from Guangzhou, China, and her grandparents soon followed.

Her parents were busy running a fish and chip shop and it occupied most of their time.

While her parents’ time was consumed by their shop, Mrs Teng acted as the “physical primary caregiver”, raising Ms Hu and her two sisters.

“She’s moulded us,” Ms Hu said.

“We were never left hungry or cold and it was so important to have my grandmother as a family figure to be there when we came back from school.”

She could not say she was not ever resentful of her parents for not being around.

“They were never there for school plays, they were never there for sports, they were never there for a lot of my educational milestones,” she said.

“I wasn’t an abandoned child. Yes, they weren’t there but luckily my grandmother was.

“If my grandmother wasn’t there, it would be a whole different story.”

Now 37 years old, Ms Hu was still very close with her grandmother.

A lot of Chinese parents born in the ’50s and ’60s did not express love verbally, she said.

“But you feel that they love you in the things that they do. One big thing is food.

“Food speaks in all cultures and all generations.”

Ms Hu’s cousins had a similar upbringing and also had parents occupied by a food service business, she said.

Her grandfather, Chu Jeung Teng, helped raise her cousins in Christchurch.

As a result, Mrs and Mr Teng spent 15 years apart, until she joined him in Christchurch.

“I don’t remember seeing [my grandparents] together all that often, but when my grandfather came to visit they would sit on the couch together and watch TV.

“It was the physical nature of them being together.”

Mr Teng died 10 years ago, living the last two years of his life in a rest-home.

“That was when my grandma first took a bus in New Zealand.

“She went to see him every day .. rain, hail, shine.”

When Mrs Teng moved to New Zealand, she did not speak English – and almost four decades on, she still did not.

For many grandparents who migrated to raise their grandchildren, there was often a sense of displacement once the children had grown up, Ms Hu said.

Mrs Teng lives in Christchurch, while Ms Hu and her family relocated to Oamaru six years ago.

She and her husband, Mark Hau, ditched their nine-to-five corporate jobs to run Oamaru’s Turret Takeaways – only they had a different plan for raising their two boys, Tobias (6) and Lewis (2).

“We learn from that past generation and we try to do a bit better, or what we deem is better.”

Their takeaway shop had an apartment above it, where the family would spend time together, and Ms Hu made sure she helped Tobias with his reading and homework every night.

“We try to do quality time.”

The two boys would receive “words of encouragement”, were told they were loved and had plenty of cuddles.