They stopped to say hello outside her building. They stopped to say hello along Dundas Street. They waved at her through the window from inside the soon-to-open jewellery store in the Dragon City mall.
It was like walking the streets of Toronto’s Chinatown with a celebrity.
And I suppose, in a way, 86-year-old Lena holds some celebrity status in town after coming to Canada in 1998: she helps out with building management where she lives; has volunteered with homeless and low-income women at a Sistering Drop-in Centre agency; and has spent four years volunteering for New Democratic Member of Parliament Olivia Chow’s election campaign in the riding of Trintiy-Spadina.
But even at her age, there seems to be no slowing down. At least once, sometimes twice a day, she heads out to do some shopping and meet with friends.
After her husband spent more than a year in hospital and convalescence following pacemaker surgery, she decided it would be best for him to be at home in their tiny one bedroom apartment. Home-cooked meals, she says, has made all the difference in his recovery.
By the way, he’s 97.
Born near Birmingham, England, and having lived in India, Burma, Kunming, and Guiyang, Lena says she does not remember how or when she began speaking Chinese. But her Shanghainese, Cantonese and Mandarin dialects certainly come in handy in Toronto’s ethnically diverse Chinatown.
She has seen a number of political and social changes throughout her years in China – from Japanese occupation, to Nationalist and Communist power struggles and Cultural Revolution upheavals – so she is uniquely qualified to believe that Canada is one of the best countries to live in, she says.