What is it like to face the end of one’s life—and see one’s loved ones grow old—in a country with an imperfect medical system?

The first character in the Chinese for “companion,” banlü (伴侣), literally means “person-halves.” When my grandfather is first diagnosed with cancer, my grandmother teaches me about banlü and what it means—and also how it is to love someone who’s old and sick in a country with a struggling hospital system.

“I’ve dropped everything,” says my nainai (grandmother). “Going out to meet friends, trying to learn English — I haven’t done any of that in months. I’m saving all my energy to bring your yeye (grandfather) back to health.”

I. Before chemotherapy

The morning begins with oxygen, pills, and water. My nainai, who has struggled with her iPad for years, has somehow learned how to operate a respiratory machine.

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Love in an Old Climate is a story from our issue, “Vital Signs.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Tina Xu (徐盈盈)

Tina Xu is the former culture editor at The World of Chinese. She writes across film, literature, and society, spanning from indie documentaries to diaspora communities. Her stories for TWOC received the 2021 SOPA Award for Excellence in Regional Reporting on the Environment, and were finalists in Women’s Issues and Photography.

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