Teresa Wong and Janice Dodd connect over shared relationship to Hong Kong
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When Janice Dodd read a story in The Lake Report in March about Teresa Wong's family fleeing the rapdily changing state of Hong Kong, it stirred up similar feelings she once had moving to Niagara.
She remembered how it feels to be alone in a new country, how different Niagara-on-the-Lake is from a busy city.
And as a mother, it hit close to home to learn Wong was facing the situation mostly alone with her two young boys – while her husband and daughter were still waiting for the right time to leave.
It didn't take Dodd long to reach out and offer a helping hand — and it didn't take long for that to blossom into a strong friendship.
Dodd, who was eight months pregnant, tracked down Wong with the help of her husband Michael, who recognized the home she was staying in from the picture in our newspaper.
“When we came across that story, I told myself, 'I want to meet this lady' because this is where I came from, and I know the backstory of what's going on in Hong Kong,” Janice Dodd said during a chat at her family home, where she and her husband had just arrived with their newborn baby James.
Wong and her two sons are staying with her former English teacher, Kaspar Pold, who opened up his home to her when she needed it.
“I was like 'Wow, I know how that feels. I can relate to it,' ” Dodd said.
And after learning Wong was still not reunited with her husband and daughter, “It was heartbreaking. This is so hard for any family to have to go through this.”
Being a mom, she knows “support from the community is so important.”
She moved here from Hong Kong in 1998 to attend university.
“I'm an immigrant myself, so I know that there's a period of time that Teresa needs to get a job in order to stay. I really wanted to know how we can help? I have the experience of the deadline of the work permits. I can sense the urgency of it,” Dodd said.
About three days after the story was published, she dropped off a note at the home, identified from the photo in the paper.
“So Kaspar opened the door and then I I told him where I came from and why I was coming,” Dodd said.
“And then she came in the house and then we chat, chat, chat, chat,” Wong added.
The two, both mothers of children around the same age, became fast friends.
Dodd, with help from Michael, found Wong a job right away. Wong had been studying and hoping to get a job as a personal support worker, but the Dodds' connections helped her find steady temporary work at Meyers Fruit Farms.
The job also qualifies Wong to stay in Canada on a work permit, which was an important factor because she had been here on a six-month visitor's permit, and already been here for three months.
Michael Dodd, the former head grower for Meyers, knew right away it would be a good fit, because Meyers has a lot of experience already with workers from different cultures, and knew how to use migrant worker programs to their advantage.
A work permit also allows her children to attend school.
“Once you get a work permit you will be able to proceed with immigration,” Dodd said.
For Wong, opening the door and meeting Janice was a big surprise – another woman from Hong Kong to whom she can relate. She said she'd been researching NOTL and the only person she knew of from Hong Kong was Si Wai Lai, who helped make Vintage Hotels into the popular NOTL brand it is today.
“Besides that, I (thought) 'I'm the only Hong Kong lady in town,' ” Wong laughed.
Dodd thought so, too. “I thought I would be the only one.”
“And then suddenly come another Hong Kong lady. Wow. It's great. We just like chatting blah, blah, blah. It's amazing,” Wong said.
A few days later they went out for lunch and now seeing them together one could easily think they've been friends for a lifetime.
Wong remembers how fast everything happened. Just days after her story was published, she had met Janice and Michael, and another week later she had solid work.
“Everything happened so fast, but in a good, good way.”
Wong still can't share much of her story with her friends in Hong Kong. She's worried about her husband and children getting safely to Canada, but says she's grateful for the help from everyone around her.
Dodd still has immediate family in Hong Kong, too. She said things have changed so much that now when she talks to them, they use encrypted phone lines and special apps to make sure their conversations remain private. If they say something negative about the state, the government could arrest her family.
Hong Kong has been moving away from democracy rapidly in recent years, even though there was supposed to be assurance of 50 years of political autonomy starting in 1997.
“Fifty years is only a number, you know,” Wong joked.
She noted there is an “election” going on in Hong Kong right now.
“Only one candidate election. Very democratic,” Wong said, rolling her eyes.
“Can you imagine if you had a vote for the (prime minister) here with only one candidate?”
Through the challenges, Dodd plans to stick by Wong's side. And vice versa.
“We have a community now, right? We can always call each other for support.” Dodd said.
“And then our kids are similar ages. So they are like friends already,” Wong said.
In their chats, they realized there is a magic year that oddly connects them. Dodd moved to Niagara in 1998 to study computer science at Brock University, which is how she ended up meeting Michael.
That same year, Pold had moved to Hong Kong to teach English, and Wong also moved to Hong Kong from mainland China. That's when she first met Pold.
Meanwhile, Wong's husband and daughter are doing well in Hong Kong, she said, and are planning to move to Niagara in the summer to join with the rest of the family.