Everyone has a story. The more I travel the more I love to meet new people who share their stories with me. I am fascinated by other peoples lives, their personal stories, people who travel, people who live their dreams, and people who aim to keep pushing out of their comfort zones. People who make their lives as best as they can; regardless of adversity. And let’s face it, we have all faced adversity in our lives. That is called being human.
This is a story about a brave quiet Chinese girl I met in my hostel in Istanbul. I was feeling overwhelmed and tired at the tale end of my trip, and the thought of navigating around such a hectic busy city was daunting me. As I woke in the morning, we talked about our plans for the day; it did not take me long to ask ‘could I please join you today?’ She responded eagerly, she was also keen to have the company so it was perfect.
I really did not mind what we did, I was just happy to have company, someone to share my day with and together we could navigate the hustle and bustle of mental busy Istanbul.
As we walked, and rode the tram and enjoyed the cool breeze on the ferry ride across the Bosphorus; we talked comfortably and easily. Not long did I realise Leo was an amazing woman.
As she was the second daughter born to her Chinese parents, she was sent to live with her Grand mother from birth. The problem was she was not a boy. Here she was raised by a kind old Grandma, until at the age of 7, her Grand mother died. Not only did she die, but she committed suicide. Oh my god. And even worse, this lovely small child was blamed for her death. Which is completely absurd. I reached over and hugged Leo, reaching out to comfort her, trying to imagine what that horrible experience would have been like.
She was then sent back to live with her parents. Who by then had a third child, success, a boy. She had very little connection with her parents, and still to this day only visits them annually. And even then it could be a challenge.
She works long hours as a Mechanical Engineer, often 10 hour days, and sometimes until midnight to finish projects. Occasionally she would have to go in and work on weekends.
Being now 31, marriage and children are a slim prospect. Once you are over 30 in China, as a woman it becomes very difficult to find a partner. Your parents generally put a lot of pressure on you to find a partner to marry and have children up until this point. And then if it does not happen by 30, they tend to leave you alone. Assuming that you are some reject of society, adding to your sense of failure. So harsh.
Being in love is not even a priority. It seems loveless marriages are very common, the most important thing is to just be married; being in love is arbitrary. And of course you are pressured to have children, but you better hope it is a boy. You also can not have an ultrasound in China to determine the sex of your child. I could only imagine the extreme rates of abortion if this were the case.
Divorce is becoming more popular, apparently only this year it is becoming more common to separate from the confines of a loveless or troublesome marriage. But this could spell more problems for women; once separated, according to my friend, there are no obligations for the man to pay child support or provide any financial support to his ex partner. This opens up a myriad of problems for children, women and society in general.
Leo had travelled all around Turkey and was a lovely woman. She was friendly, intelligent, kind, thoughtful, and exuded an inner strength I found very appealing. Her story made me feel pensive, and I felt so much gratitude for the privileged lifestyle I lead. Although I have lost my parents I was raised with so much love and connection and care. I felt so much gratitude for the abundant love I still feel from my dearly loved Mum and Dad, and I realised how lucky I am.
In some aspects I envied Leo and her position on being single. She had ruled out the whole “getting married having children” conundrum us single women face. We wonder ‘will I ever get married?’ ‘Will I ever have children?’ These are open ended unanswerable mysterious questions right now for me. But for Leo, she knows the answer. No. She will not. She will simply focus on enjoying her work as an engineer, and plan for her travels every year; for which she can only enjoy 2 short weeks at a time.
At the end of her story, I looked at her straight in the eye and said,’Leo, you should move to Australia’. As an Australian, women have so many more opportunities, freedoms and a better lifestyle. There would even be a much higher possibility of her finding a more suitable partner and even having children if she so wanted to. We are not all put on the shelf at the age of 30, lucky for me, and us Australian women, we have a lot to be grateful for.
Everyone has a story. I was lucky to learn from Leo, she is brave, strong and courageous like the lion image I chose for her. I wish her the very best in her life, and I hope our paths can cross one day again in the future. Perhaps in Australia?
What age is it common in your country where women can no longer marry and have children?
Love Anita xx