When I was seventeen, it was a very good year. The Pan American Games was in Winnipeg. I had finished Grade 10. I wore mascara and eyeliner and had a $7 hair switch which I put up in curls almost every day. I was full of confidence I didn’t possess.
I invited myself to my pen pal, Gail’s home in Winnipeg (to see the Games) and a waitress job in her grandfather’s restaurant. The most surprising thing was, my mother allowed me to go. She was trusting Gail’s mother to keep me safe from harm.
Our mothers had met at the Immigration Office in Hong Kong. Coincidentally, we were on the same plane from Hong Kong to Tokyo. There they boarded a different plane to Winnipeg. We stayed on to Vancouver. Addresses were exchanged and they kept up correspondence over the years.
Feeling lonely and set apart being the only Chinese girl my age in town, I asked my mother for their address and started writing to Gail. That was the start of our friendship and the trip to Winnipeg the summer of 1967.
Thinking back it was a miracle. I boarded a Grey Hound Bus to the big city of Winnipeg all by myself. Gail and her family were virtual strangers to me. I stayed for the whole summer, coming home in time for school. I had more courage then. Or maybe I was too young and naive to be scared.
Winnipeg was much much bigger than our town of 600. Somehow I got around. Chan’s Restaurant was on Main Street. It was big, consisting of two floors. I worked on the main floor. First lesson I got was, You don’t get friendly with a customer. You do not sit down and have a conversation with them. Boy, it was a good thing I worked for a friend’s family! Otherwise I would probably get sacked.
I never did see any of the games. Mostly I worked. That’s what I remembered anyways. I did meet a few guys and saw a couple of movies. Of course that got Gail’s mother calling my mother right away. She was responsible for me so I sort of understood. I didn’t want to cause her worry. I did my socializing in the afternoon after that.
It was not the young guys that had things on their mind. It was the adults. Uncle Bing gave me rides home when we were working the same shift. He wanted to show me different parts of Winnipeg on the way. One night he took me to the airport to watch the planes take off. He taught me to drink coffee and smoke a cigarette. I liked Uncle Bing but sometimes he had this weird breathing – fast with a funny sound. I did not understand. He was married with children.
God protects the young, weak and innocent.