Between Norwich and Colchester my phone sleeps signalless in my lap. In this half of the journey, I notice the way the light swoops over stretches of water and punches through twisted trees. The British love to complain about their trains, but I am grateful for the Abelio Greater East Anglia Norwich to London route. In the year I have been taking it, we’ve avoided the infamous delays caused by “leaves on the track” and the “wrong kind of rain.”
Someone has left a paper on the seat next to me, but I don’t want to pick it up. The news has not been good. The country is upside-down with fear and anger and confusion. No one knows what it means that the UK has voted to leave Europe. The papers are full not so much of news, but of speculation. What will happen to us all?
I was visiting friends in New York when Britain voted for Brexit. Suddenly, I was the expert on events. They asked me: how could this happen? Why did this happen? Why do the English want to shut the world out? I didn’t understand myself. I have a body that can’t exist without border crossing. It takes some geographic maneuvering to breed flesh that is a quarter Japanese, quarter Chinese, three eights Scottish, and one eighth English. If a woman had missed her train sixty-seven years ago, I would not exist.
You don’t have to marry rich, my great grand father says, Just kind.
Why not both? his daughter replies.
In 1949, my grandmother was about to leave Shanghai for Hong Kong. Her father wanted to get her out of Shanghai now that the Communists had taken over. Everything was packed and she was ready in her navy travelling suit. This would be the last time she’d see him for years.
The train stalled in the station. No explanation was given. Passengers whispered that the Communists had stopped the trains. The air was humid with rumors. No one knew what exactly the Communists wanted. No one knew exactly what Communist rule meant. Shanghai had survived opium dealers and the Japanese occupation, surely the rule of its own people would be better? But as a factory owner’s daughter, my grandmother was certainly one of the bourgeois. My grandmother did not yet know the things that would happen to the family members who did not make it out. But she knew that her father thought her departure was urgent. It was feared that soon the Communists would not allow travel to the British colony. She sat in her first class seat, shivering with anxiety. Then, with just as little explanation, service resumed. It was the last train to make it to Hong Kong.
Read the rest of the piece in Guernica Magazine here.