I spotted her as I came up to the platform on the escalator. She was looking at the train platform monitors, holding a notebook in her hands, comparing the stations being reflected on the screen to what was on her notebook. When she saw me, she registered a look of relief almost immediately.
“You speaker Chinese??”
“Ya..” I replied hesitantly, my defenses going up instinctively.
She, however, seemed to let hers down and immediately launched into a detailed explanation about where she wanted to go. It took me awhile to understand that when she said “bracktowner”, she meant “Blacktown”. It took me awhile more to convince her that she was on the right platform and she didn’t see the stops in between this station and where she wanted to go because it was going to be an express train.
In the 8 minutes before the train arrived, we continued our conversation, mainly in mandarin. She expressed gratitude at our chance meeting. (“When you’re old, it’s difficult to learn a new language! So I always look for black hair yellow skin people!”)
She told of how her daughter, despite having already secured a government job teaching English in a University in China, still wanted to come to Sydney to do her masters and eventually decide to stay on, and then bringing her mother over after she had gotten her citizenship.
“That’s not a bad thing, you must be happy to have your daughter look after you here”, I replied.
“Aiya… I don’t know why she wanted to leave. Job was good, everything was paid for. Leave, then leave behind our family and relatives and friends, just like that!”
No wonder she looked at me approvingly when I said yes I’ll be going back after completing my studies.
When I glanced at her notebook, full of scribblings of station names, prominent places in Sydney, and their mandarin translations, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. Because of her love for her child, she chose to uproot herself from her hometown, and unwillingly accepted her citizenship in a foreign country. I could hear the regret in her words: “I shouldn’t have agreed to let my daughter come to Sydney then…”
Just before the train arrived, the lady sighed: “I told my daughter, everyone who comes here and live a new life, has a story to tell.”
And I’m glad I got to hear a bit of hers.