She never talks without a gracious smile,
And is never shy of pampering every tummy.
Still, nobody knows her actual name—
Our mysterious Mrs Hudson (in Chinese style)—
As we’ve resolved to call her A-Yi1, Da-Jie2 and Mummy
Since years ago she came.
From an exotic people of West Guizhou,
A-Yi was born in the heart of all China;
And, nowadays, at noon and six,
She’s in the heart of every hungry soul—
Holding us captive in her fine diner
With the tang, the magic … the fix!
The sweet granny doesn’t work for the money—
She just can’t stand idling like a monument.
So, really, A-Yi is here for her hobby—
The all-day party with chores and heat and smoke—
So long as it keeps her from retirement.
She starts before sunrise every day,
And, single-handedly, crafts our favourite savouries.
She can do noodles like a Henanese
And alchemise peppers in the Sichuan way;
Her condiments beat a Cantonese spicery’s,
And her chops are quicker than Bruce Lee’s!
Apart from cooking five courses each meal,
She often spoils us, out of her own purse,
With goodies from her distant country.
Indebtedly, and in vain, we appeal
For many a time to reimburse,
To which she waves off, saying, “Mei de shi!”3
Not for all the green and black and oolong tea in China
(Which we sure know better than the Brits!)
That we would give up A-Yi for anybody else;
Yet, our beloved chef, straining a smile, here in the diner
Now tells us she must quit and care for her grandkids—
There … an ineffable sadness … not lightly felt.
1. “A-Yi”—“Aunty” in Mandarin.
2. “Da-Jie”—“Big Sister” in Mandarin.
3. “Mei de shi”—“It’s nothing” in Guizhouese.