Jiang Shaoju's three-year-old family-run nursing home for the elderly in Dalian breaks all stereotypes people might attach to traditional homes for the aged. There are no nurses in uniforms, no numbered bedding and there is a lot of laughter.
Jiang, 56, has given almost every one of the 12 elderly women in her nursing home a nickname. She calls 92-year-old Xuan Shoulan "vice principal" because Xuan likes giving orders to others in the house and evaluating Jiang's housework. Jiang once had to stop herself laughing when the elderly lady asked her to divorce her husband for having an icy face and then regretted it two minutes later, saying, "Your marriage should stay since we cannot afford to lose a good cook."
Jiang calls 78-year-old Liu Yunxiang "national treasure" because she created a miracle by being able to stand and talk again after being confined to bed for years.
A 90-year-old woman suffering Alzheimer's disease goes by the nickname "baby" because it was the first word of the first complete sentence she had spoken for years, when her daughter came to visit.
After working for over 30 years in the hospitality industry as vice president of a state-owned luxury hotel chain, Jiang had never thought about opening a nursing home until she had difficulty in finding a home-like nursing home for her own mother.
In 2004, Jiang's elder sister who had been taking care of her 80-year-old mother suddenly fell ill. Jiang visited nursing homes around the city, but failed to select one that suited all the demands of her mother. She decided to take early retirement to start a nursing home of nine beds in her own 140 square meters, four-bedroom apartment.
"I saw similar models with younger elderly people taking care of older elderly people in Japan on my business trips and found it homely and comfortable," Jiang recalled.
Her proposal met with strong opposition from her husband and all her friends. Her husband, who had retired from a managerial post of a state-owned restaurant chain, only agreed to stay and be the cook of the nursing home after she threatened to kick him out of home.
"The first half year almost crushed me," Jiang said. Being the only caretaker of three elderly women, who all needed care and aid, she worked so hard that she once stayed at home for a whole month. To conduct massage therapy on Liu Yunxiang, a patient with cerebral thrombosis at night, Jiang slept on a couch at her bedside for eight months.
Six months after the nursing home opened, the unbearable workload prompted Jiang to think about quitting. But she dismissed the idea for fear that failure, for the first time in her life, would make her the laughing stock of her friends. She told herself, "I will stick with this for another two years and then quit on the excuse of poor health."
Just then things started to turn around. Her whole-hearted care quickly earned her mini-nursing home a reputation. When the six empty beds in her two other bedrooms were filled by newcomers, Jiang found herself financially able to hire an employee. When Jiang's workload was halved with the hiring of the new hand, seeing Liu finally able to sit and walk gave her enormous satisfaction and dismissed her thoughts of quitting.
Xiao Ye, producer of a TV program on elderly people's lives for Dalian TV Station, has interviewed Jiang about the nursing home several times. She said of Jiang's home, "This is a star-rated nursing home run by a woman addicted to nursing the elderly."
Due to the work habits picked up over years of running five-star hotels, Jiang cleans all the rooms according to hotel standards. When Jiang purchases daily necessities for the nursing home, she always chooses the best quality, whether it is cookies, bedding or socks. Once, to find the best-quality adult diaper among different brands, Jiang tried different ones herself for two days. On the dinner table for Lunar New Year's Eve, there are always dishes of expensive seafood. "I pay for the seafood out of my own pocket since these elderly women may only have a few New Year celebrations left," Jiang said.
Jiang's income from running the nursing home barely matches the rent she could receive from her apartment; she has priced her star-rated services at just 1,200 yuan ($162 ) per month, which is quite acceptable to most families in Dalian.
The nursing home has been enlarged this year to 210 square meters and 15 beds, and Jiang has hired two members of staff.
"We have only one washing room, so I only recruit female residents. I only recruit those who need help to walk around. For elderly people who could walk freely, they need scenery, parks and even sport facilities, which I cannot offer at this downtown apartment. For those who cannot walk freely, what they need most is care and the joys of a home, which I can definitely provide for them," said Jiang.