Chinese culture and community enhance residents’ lives

“My mother, Lai Yung Choi, has always had a sharp mind,” says Lina Chiong. She describes her mother’s store in Hong Kong, where she sold sugar cane juice and chrysanthemum tea. She says her mother never wrote down who owed for goods—she simply remembered.

Lina’s parents left Hong Kong in 1994, moving to Canada to be closer to family. Their Chinese culture remained a pivotal part of their daily lives once they arrived in Edmonton. Each morning, they would take two buses from south Edmonton to Chinatown to meet friends for dim sum. Once a week, Lai Yung would play mahjong. She never did learn to speak any English.

The years went by, and Lai Yung and her husband transitioned from living with Lina to living in a nursing home. After her husband passed in 2015, Lai Yung suffered from multiple falls. In October 2016, she moved to Ming Ai at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre.

Lina Chiong visits her mother at Ming Ai often, and says she is comforted knowing her mother is in a place where she is able to express and experience her culture and language.

Lina is grateful her mother moved to this specialized unit, which is populated by all Chinese residents. Ming Ai has culturally specific recreation programs and food, and most of the staff Cantonese or Mandarin.

Resident Lai Yung plays mahjong with her friends on the Ming Ai unit. Mahjong, which originated in China, is a game played with 144 tiles. It is commonly played by four players.

“My mother is outgoing and independent, and while she had to give up some of her independence, it is a big deal for her to be able to communicate and make friends,” says Lina, adding that cultural similarities have helped her mother adjust to her new home.

Lai Yung lives with 53 other residents on Ming Ai, which comprises two units, 5Y and 5C.

Pollyanna Kwong, Recreation Therapist, explains the cultural differences can be subtle. Whereas other units give out bingo prizes like crossword puzzles and picture frames, the residents on Ming Ai appreciate something more pragmatic, such as soaps and lotions.

Eudora Chan, Recreation Assistant, leads Ming Ai residents in tai chi exercises. She says the residents on this unit enjoy staying active.

The differences certainly don’t end there. The recreation schedule is full of family-centred activities celebrating Chinese heritage and culture. There are designated dim sum days, Chinese group meals, Chinese opera performers, mahjong games, tai chi classes and trips to T&T Supermarket followed by traditional cooking days in the kitchen. Traditional festivals such as Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival are celebrated and shared with the rest of the residents at the Edmonton General.

Mandy Kwok, Unit Manager, explains the unit is more than just a culturally specific space. “Here, residents can celebrate their own culture. Seeing other Chinese faces and speaking their own language makes them feel safe. It makes this a home.”

Ming Ai graphic

  • The Ming Ai unit opened in 1994, and was formerly called Hong Lok. 
  • Ming Ai is the Chinese name for Caritas.
  • In keeping with Chinese tradition, vegetables are always served cooked at Ming Ai.
  • The Edmonton Chinese Lions Club funds culturally specific activities at Ming Ai.
  • Ming Ai is an extension of Edmonton’s Chinese community and has a group of dedicated volunteers. 
  • Most of the residents at Ming Ai are unable to participate in many of the facility-wide activities due to the language barrier. This unit allows them to be active as well as share their culture with other Edmonton General residents.

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