Sou­venir

Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - —Madeleine Thien Win­ner of the 2016 Sco­tia­bank Giller Prize, Madeleine Thien’s ( @madeleinethien) most re­cent novel is Do Not Say We Have Noth­ing. What’s your favourite travel sou­venir? Tell us the story be­hind it on (@Can­geo_­travel) and (@can­geo­travel).

Pho­to­graph of my mother, Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia

MY MOTHER IS HOLD­ING the very cor­ner of the frame — a model of a ship, a clip­per, I think. She is 18 or 19, newly ar­rived to Aus­tralia to study in a sec­re­tar­ial col­lege. It is the early 1960s. The man in the hat is a mys­tery to me; per­haps he is her host in the home­s­tay she has ar­ranged. Or some­one else? I will never know. My mother looks at ease and gazes into the lens with a frank­ness that, 50 years later, moves me greatly. Did she fore­see that, all her life, she would cross oceans and con­ti­nents, shed­ding lan­guages, mem­o­ries and be­long­ings? When I look at her in this mo­ment, I see a young woman walk­ing war­ily and coura­geously into her life. My mother, born in China, was a child refugee dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. Life would carry her to Hong Kong, Aus­tralia, Malaysia and fi­nally Canada. In her 40s and 50s, her em­ployer sent her each week to the pulp and pa­per mills of Bri­tish Columbia and Al­berta — to Port Hardy, Chetwynd, Grande Prairie and be­yond. She loved the West Coast and the shift­ing move­ments of the sea. She died sud­denly at the age of 58, when I was in my 20s. Sou­venir, in French, is both a me­mento and mem­ory it­self. This mys­te­ri­ous pic­ture, dis­cov- ered only af­ter she had passed away, is the beloved thing I carry with me ev­ery­where. I do not know if the ship was pur­chased in Hong Kong, or how my mother came to choose it. I like that we can see through the ship’s case to my mother’s shoul­der, and to what looks like a bak­ery or food stall (I can al­most make out Chi­nese let­ter­ing on the sign), and in the back­ground a build­ing that says Bar. What comes next? What in­vis­i­ble heart­break and love are within her? What has she car­ried from home? This sou­venir, this mem­ory it­self, is a way for me to carry a fu­ture that cir­cles be­tween then and now. My mother looks deeply into what is to come, and I look for what was, what would be, and our thoughts hover be­tween worlds.

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