Day 319 - Elizabeth (3rd person I approached)
November 15, 2014 - Elizabeth was sitting at a small table, at the edge of the food court. The mall was closing, and the janitorial staff were stacking the chairs on top of the tables. She was reading from a book and making notes on a printed piece of paper that had some highlighted paragraphs on it. I explained to Elizabeth what I was doing. She said she’d talk with me, depending on what kind of things I wanted to talk about. She told me she didn’t like having her picture taken. Once I showed her other stories I’ve collected, from my Facebook page, she agreed to let me take her photo.
“I was born in the small town of Foshan, in (mainland) China (about six hours north-west of Hong Kong). Just my younger brother and me, with our parents. We were close, in a traditional Chinese manner. But in my mind, we were much closer. I could tell what my brother was thinking without using words. It was in my mind,” she said, smiling as she tapped the side of her forehead.
“I loved music as a child. My parents liked music and I think that is where it came from. In school we listened to classical music at lunchtime. Although I didn’t know that it was classical music at the time. I knew lots of songs and pieces of music, but never knew who it was or the type of music until later in life,” Elizabeth told me.
“My brother also liked music. We’d listen to the radio whenever we could. We could not afford speakers for the radio, so we bought two small radios and then we had stereo sound!” she said, excitedly. Elizabeth’s parents separated when she was five years old.
“My mother was an active person, and was politically aware. She felt changes were happening and we left China to go to Hong Kong,” she told me.
“I liked school, but I didn’t have many friends. School, music, eat, sleep. Everyday. And homework for my studies. I studied piano and keyboards for a little while when I was young, but not for very long. On the weekends I went to concerts. Chinese opera. Every weekend,” she said.
"Oh and movies. I loved going to the movies every week as well."
“My family was rather traditional. My grandmother only used walking for her transportation. I had to walk to school. It was far and uphill to get there. With my studies and walking to and from school, plus helping at home, I didn’t have much time for friends. I was quiet and I followed other people. I didn't know how to say what I wanted,” said Elizabeth.
“I went to a private school in Hong Kong. They told us how to cut our hair, what clothing to wear, how long our skirt should be, below the knee,” she said. I asked if she used to roll her skirt up at the waist after classes.
“YES!,” she said, in astonishment.
“How did you know that?!” I laughed too, and said I had friends who wore uniforms to private school. That's what the girls told me they did. She thought it was funny that I knew about that. She covered her smile with her hand, while laughing.
When was twenty years old, Elizabeth's mother sent her to live in Victoria, on Vancouver Island (British Columbia - BC).
“All of my mother's friends were sending their children to Canada, so my mother followed what her friends did. I went to live with the daughter of one of my mother’s friends. They were going to school, so I followed what they did and I went to school. They were all studying business administration, and even though I didn’t understand what it was, I did that too. I went to Camosun College,” she said.
After almost two years, Elizabeth decided it was time to stop following other people.
“I made a friend at school, and she said I could live with her family, and pay room and board. I wrote to my mother to ask permission. She worried about me. My mother had always done everything for me. If I wasn’t living with her friend's daughter, how would she know I was ok? She eventually agreed, but I had to work on her to let me move,” she told me.
“I wanted to become independent, like my mother had been when I was a small child. I didn’t know how to cook, or do grocery shopping, or laundry. I had to learn everything. I didn’t even know how to use a fork when I first came to Canada. I also discovered pop music and rock and roll too!”
Elizabeth found her independence.
“I changed the direction of my schooling. I learned to type and do data entry. I got a part-time job in a bank and I worked in a restaurant on the weekends as a waitress,” she said.
After finishing college, Elizabeth’s friend told her of a job with the Ministry of Health, doing data entry.
“I got the job and did that full-time. I still worked at the restaurant on weekends,” she said. That’s where she met Danny.
“My boss introduced him to me, because Danny used to work there at the restaurant too," she said. He was working for BC Ferries and was now a regular customer at the restaurant.
"The first time I saw him, I thought to myself 'He is going to be my husband.' But I never told him that, of course,” she said, with a giggle.
"He asked me to go with him to the Christmas party at his work. That was our first date. He was such a nice man. I remember once he took me out for a date and we went for fish and chips. I think he thought because I am a woman that I don’t eat a lot. He ordered one piece of fish and chips for us to share. I was so hungry after the date, I had to go to McDonald’s!" she said.
"When we were getting married, we went to the church to talk about our wedding. The minister asked where we had met. That was when I told Danny about how when I met him, I knew he would be my husband,” she said, gently.
A couple of years after getting married, Elizabeth got a transfer to the Department of Vital Statistics, based here in Vancouver.
“We moved here the year of Expo ’86 (1986),” she said.
“I try to learn at least one new thing everyday. I have continued to take courses and to learn as much as I can. I'm now learning to play keyboards again,” she said with a proud smile. She also used ‘air keyboards’ as she told me about how the lessons were going. We laughed quite a bit throughout our chat.
Elizabeth and Danny have been married for over thirty years.
“I was not nominated by God to have children. When the time would have been right for Danny and I to do that, we were busy working hard. I was nominated to take care of other people and to help out where I can. That’s okay. I have helped my mother, and my uncle's. And Danny’s family,” she said.
“I retired four years ago," she said, sounding slightly exasperated.
"Retirement is not a vacation. My mother-in-law and my father came to live with us. We have our home upstairs and they each have their own space downstairs. I had been looking after both of them,” said Elizabeth. She went on to tell me about a number of deaths in their families. Not working afforded her the time to travel between Vancouver and Hong Kong to help out with sick and dying family members. Her mother-in-law passed away last year.
“Now I am looking after my father. He is a senior now, and we need to take care of him. I can’t have him in a hospital or a care home. If something happens in the middle of the night, I want to be just upstairs for him. I don't want to have to drive to make sure he is okay,” she said.
I asked Elizabeth what the paperwork in front of her was.
“Oh, I am studying. It keeps the brain active, helps me to stay alert. I study all my life. I am taking a bible study class now. We are working on how to learn to let things go. The things that aren’t important and don’t matter to us. Let them go. That way you can pay attention to what is important. Focus on those things,” she said.
I wanted to clarify the timelines of a couple things that Elizabeth had told me. I asked when she went to Camosun College. She thought about it and then I could see a memory flash across her face.
“It was around the time when Saturday Night Fever came out!” That confused me because that movie came out in 1977. When Elizabeth told me she was born in 1951, it truly surprised me. I told her I thought she was much younger and that she had a joyful spirt and energy about her.
“Oh bless you, thank you. God chose that for me. I remember when I was a small girl in elementary school. I had a teacher that taught me something very important. She said that if we felt anger, our hearts would become closed and tense, like this,” she said, clenching her fists.
“My teacher said we must face anger with an open heart, we must be open hearted to it. And to think of ourselves as in a row boat, open and free, rowing through the anger, to let it go and not hold on to it. Whenever I feel anger, because sometimes I do, I think of my teacher. I try to open my heart and not be closed. I think this keeps me young.” #notastranger