Yesterday, just after my last post, my roommate and I had some people over for Hot Pot, which is a Chinese fondue-type meal with broth in a large pot in the center of the table. There were plates of vegetables, meats, dumplings, fish balls, quail and chicken eggs, bok choy, and lettuce on the table to add to the Hot Pot to create a simmering stew for everyone to eat. It was a delicious and fun meal to say the least, but the highlight of the evening for me, wasn’t the food.
A few days earlier, my roommate had been telling me all about a 80-something year old lady named Mary who attended her church. Her and a few friends had sort of adopted Mary because she had lost her husband some ten or so years ago and never had any children of her own. When my roommate told me Mary would be attending our Hot Pot dinner that evening, I was intrigued to say the least. So as everyone began to arrive and I met Mary for the first time, I found myself missing my grandparents a little bit more. She’s a sweet and quiet sort of woman, who watched as the 6 of us girls gabbed loudly around her. She seemed to enjoy the company more than anything else, and on the occasion she did say something it had a lighthearted and comical air to it. More than once the 6 of us found ourselves erupting in laughter at something unexpected coming from the small white-haired lady at the table.
It wasn’t until the end of dinner when we were all sipping on wine and eating chocolate like a bunch of addicts that Mary really revealed herself. One of the girls asked Mary to share her stories with the rest of us who hadn’t had the privilege of hearing them. After a little convincing and a few interruptions, Mary began the story of her life. It started when she was 21 or so back in 1949. She left her home in Pennsylvania and traveled to China to teach English with a missionary group. For the next 28 years she would travel throughout China multiple times over the span of 10+ years, spend a month in England exploring the country, attend college for a Masters in Social Work, live in California, meet her husband in Hong Kong, learn how to speak some Cantonese, and come to call Tucson home. As she told us her story she would occasionally look to my roommate and say something she remembered from her 11 week crash course in Cantonese at Yale before one of her trips to China. My roommate being Chinese-Canadian would smile and reply before telling the rest of us what she had said.
As she talked, her eyes went through all of the emotions I imagine she had felt in her lifetime. I found myself incredibly moved by this woman who was probably overlooked by most due to her age. Here was a woman who had done what most people still think is impossible for a young woman today. She traveled alone. And she did it in 1949 when the Chinese were living in fear of an invasion from Russia. If there were ever a story to inspire me to follow my heart and carve out my own adventure, it would be Mary’s. While I may not be traveling for the same reasons she did, in my mind having the independence and spirit to explore the world as a young female in any decade, is something to be proud of.