A new chapter begins in Canada
When Janice Ye stepped off the plane at Vancouver International Airport July 21, 2002, she breathed in the fresh sea air and began the first day of her new life in Canada.
Born and raised in Canton province, China, Ye left her old life behind to begin anew in Richmond. Accompanied by her son Jimmy, then 12, Ye was excited about the opportunities that awaited her.
“Before I came to Canada I had travelled a lot, to Australia, around China, and Canada appealed to me because it was quieter, with good quality air,” she said. “China is very crowded with too much pollution.”
Ye had taken a few English courses in China, but had yet to come to grips with the language. For Jimmy, who had studied English at school, it was a little easier.
For Ye, 49, life in China had not been easy. During the Cultural Revolution, her father died under mysterious circumstances and his body was never found.
“I was 10 years old and this was a time that anybody with an education was targeted. My dad was a boss in city government, and when he died I really didn’t understand too much.
“I saw him every day so I couldn’t understand that he was now gone,” said Ye, whose mother was a farmer. “I was kept very busy after that, looking after my brothers and sisters and helping my mother a lot, keeping house working in the garden. We grew sweet potatoes and rice.”
Moving to Canada, Ye left behind her two brothers, two sisters and her mother.
“My first impression of Canada is that it was too cold, even though it was July, but I was happy to be here — in China, I didn’t like the government and the pollution and it was too humid and too crowded.”
The other factor in her decision to leave China was its one child policy, implemented in 1979 as a way of controlling the country’s population.
“When Jimmy was 2 1/2, he asked why he didn’t have a sister and I didn’t want to have just one child because it’s so lonely for them.”
Settling in to her new life in Canada, Ye got a job doing massage in a Chinese medicine clinic.
One of the most surprising things about her new home was how much it felt like home.
“I didn’t want to stay in Richmond, where I was surrounded by Chinese culture and language, because I wanted to learn English and Canadian culture.”
With a preference for small towns, Ye took a week to travel around western Canada. After checking out Edmonton and Calgary, she found herself in Vernon.
“I made a stop at the visitors’ centre. I thought it was very beautiful here, very convenient and there is lots of history here. It was August and we spent one night in town.”
Moving to Vernon in 2004, Ye quickly established herself, and in 2006 she opened a Chinese restaurant, Hang Chou, in the spot now occupied by The Curry Pot.
“I lived in a motel for six months, I took English classes.”
Ye gives much credit for her success to the support she received from Vernon and District Immigrant Services Society, where she not only took English classes, but also had help navigating the paper work required to run a business, file taxes, everything she needed to live in Canada.
Her family’s involvement with Okanagan Chinese Baptist Church has also been a huge help in helping her feel welcome in the community.
She became a Canadian citizen that same year, giving up her Chinese passport at the same time.
Now running Healing Hands Chinese Massage, Ye began her practice of healing in 1985, when she graduated from a school of Chinese medicine. In 1999, she earned a diploma from Western Pacific College in Hong Kong in traditional acupuncture and massage.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in Canada, but I knew it would probably involve massage. But my real dream was to get my certification from the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine when my English improved.
“I enjoy my job and I enjoy helping my clients to get healthy, and to stay healthy.”
With Jimmy grown, Ye is busy with her youngest child, her much-longed for second child, daughter Rebecca, now six.
“She changed my life. I learn lots from her, especially English. She is always correcting me and telling me if I should be saying he or she, and I teach her cooking and Mandarin Chinese.
“After she was born I sold the restaurant because it was too much work and I wanted to be there for her.”
Ye has a busy life in Vernon, but she admits she’s happiest when she’s busy and keeping to a strict schedule.
“But I was crazy to try and run a restaurant while looking after a baby.”
Now in Grade 1 at Beairsto, Rebecca is learning both of Canada’s official languages, while at the same time speaking Mandarin with her mother at home. The family maintains ties to their heritage as members of the Okanagan Chinese Canadian Association. Based in Kelowna, the group offers classes in Chinese dance and language, in addition to hosting annual events for Chinese New Year, the Autumn Moon Festival and other celebrations important to people of Chinese heritage.
“It’s important to have those connections, but I do feel as though Vernon is my home, although my mom always complains, ‘Why do you stay in Canada?’ But I like the life here, I like the air, the people, the peacefulness of the country.”
And as far as missing traditional Chinese food, Ye’s cooking skills ensure she always has access to plenty of delicious food.
“My mom taught me how to cook, so we always eat well. And now I am teaching my daughter how to cook because she really wants to learn.”
Ye will be busy in the kitchen in the coming weeks, preparing for the annual Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) celebration she hosts for her clients, and their friends and family, at her home. And, while one of her favourite Canadian traditions is the pot luck, she will be doing all of the cooking for the party, as a way of showing her appreciation to her clients, many of whom are regulars.
“You never have potlucks in China — one person does all the work. Here, it’s so nice that everyone brings something.
“One thing I really love about buying groceries here is all of the organic food you can get, and I grow a lot of my own vegetables.”
Drop in to Ye’s backyard in the summer, and she can be found tending to her garden, where she grows everything from garlic to pumpkins.
“I live close to downtown yet I still get to have my garden.”
Ye lives by the same advice she offers to her clients: no junk food, get plenty of sleep, exercise. In China, the food is too salty and they use too much oil so there is a high incidence of stroke there. In Canada it’s too much sugar.
“Your body needs balance,” said Ye. “I never went to the hospital when I was young — when we got sick, my mom would use traditional remedies.
“Your health is so important, exercise is so important: for me that is dancing and tai chi. Drink chrysanthemum tea and lots of water. And I always take the time to soak my feet before sleep, because sleep and caring for your feet are so important for overall body health.
“And other than that, I take care of my business and my little girl. I don’t care how busy I am during the day, but I am always in bed by 9 p.m. I always tell friends to not call me after 8 p.m. as I need to be calm and relaxed before bed.
“Today you only need to worry about today, not what happened yesterday or you’ll drive yourself crazy.”