When Maureen and I moved to Vancouver we were intentional about looking for local shops at which to do our business. Since Historic Chinatown is close we have purchased our car insurance at Jack Chow insurance, we sometimes buy fresh produce at the Keefer Street Chinatown Supermarket, and I get my haircut at Second Beauty Salon on Main Street. I have previously blogged about the amazing life of the woman who has now been cutting my hair since we moved here. You can reread her story here. Today I am thinking about how thankful I am that I took the chance to walk into that shop over three years ago.

There is always a certain amount of apprehension about first time cross-cultural experiences. I remember walking into the salon for the first time and wondering if I would be able to understand the accent of the person cutting my hair. I wondered if they would be able to understand what I was asking for in a haircut or would I come out with a different hairstyle than I had planned. But the cultural risk was certainly worth it. It allowed me to meet this amazing woman with her real life story of escaping from China in the 1970s. As I spoke with her yesterday I discovered that I had misunderstood some of the story of her escape. But correcting the details of the story only serve to make her story more amazing.

I previously reported that “she swam from China to Hong Kong with two sisters and two brothers.” But the true story is that her seven siblings had all escaped before she did. Through a series of attempts, all of her brothers and sisters were already out of the country by the time she made her escape. They had all hired boats to take them across the narrow channel to escape. Some had to make multiple attempts and some spent time in jail for trying to escape. Being the youngest in her family, Becky*, was left behind and was alone with her parents by the time she made her escape. She swam for ten hours across shark-infested waters with one friend. The portion of the channel at which they swam had oyster beds on the bottom of the sea. They had to keep their legs up as they swam for fear of cutting themselves on the razor-sharp shells. Becky often speaks of how “lucky” she was. Her friend did get badly cut by the oyster beds during the long swim. When they arrived  in Hong Kong some farmers came to their aid and took them to the hospital to treat her friend’s legs. Becky had been lucky because someone had given her two pairs of pants and she wore both pairs while she swam and this protected her from any cuts. For several years, when she returned to China to visit her mother, she would go to visit those farmers and thank them for rescuing her and her friend. She told me that all of those farmers have now passed away because of the long period of time that has passed. Becky also says that when she thinks back to this time in her life she can hardly believe she did this. She realizes what a proficient swimmer she was back then. She jokes that she could have probably qualified for the Olympics.

After her friend had been treated at the hospital the Hong Kong police gave them a bit of money and told them to go downtown and get a bus. They spent the first few months after their escape living with relatives. Becky also considers this very lucky for she says that within about three or four years of her escape the policy changed and Hong Kong began sending all escapees back to China. There, they would be thrown in jail for their crime. Sometimes the parents of the escapees would also be jailed.

As she finished cutting my hair I thanked Becky for the haircut and for telling me her story. I told her that I always learn things from her. I am thankful that I took the chance of getting a haircut in Chinatown.

*”Becky” is not her real name.

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