The Sneakers That Brought Me Down to Earth

Maggie Lijun Duan (+Video)


Guess what? I could make a burrito in 15 seconds when I was working at Freshii. I wrapped 400 pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving when I was working at a bakery. I changed over 15 diapers a day when I was working at a daycare. In 2014, as a waitress at a dumpling restaurant during the winter solstice—the busiest day of the year—I met a customer who became my husband.


I was walking by the lakeshore. A nice calm day. A lady passing by said, “I love your shoes!”
“Thank you,” I replied with some surprise. My shoes were a pair of sneakers I had never worn before. White with black trim, plain with soft soles. My mom bought them for me when I was on a visit to China. They were unfashionable and not a designer brand, so I told her I didn’t want them, but she insisted. When I came back to Toronto, I put the “no name” sneakers away.

This day, I was organizing my shoes and found the sneakers still in the suitcase. I tried them on. They felt great. That’s when I went for a walk. The woman’s compliment made me think of my mom. I started to reflect on our relationship which was bittersweet. We used to hang out and have a lovely time together, but she thought I had betrayed her when I decided to move to Canada to be reunited with my father who later remarried.

Unfortunately, in Canada, the relationship with my father broke down. I moved out of his place and started life on my own, renting a room in a small house along with five other roommates and the landlord’s family. In my attic room, through a small window, I could see the beautiful blue sky that always gives me hope after a long day between work and school. Looking down at these sneakers made more memories flood back, memories of how difficult life was for a newcomer.

My first time in Tim Horton’s, I was so confused when the person in front of me ordered a “double-double”. Hmm…I had never learned that in my English class. Another time, in a sandwich bar, instead of asking for “mushrooms” with my sandwich, I accidentally asked for “washrooms” with my sandwich.

At school, where I studied sports journalism, and afterward, in my internship, I worked hard. However, at the end of my internship, they were experiencing layoffs. I could not get hired. I felt angry and ashamed because I could not overcome my Chinese accent and could not continue my journalism career, but I did not give up. I made a big decision to jump out of my comfort zone. I refused a Chinese media offer. I realized that I wanted to live and work in a multicultural community. While employed in a childcare setting, I went back to school at night to study Early Childhood Education. I also got trained to be a yoga teacher. Frankly, this time was not easy. Although it left me frustrated and exhausted, I am proud of the multiple skills I have gained over the years.

I could make a burrito in 15 seconds when I was working at Freshii. I wrapped 400 pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving when I was working at a bakery. I changed over 15 diapers a day when I was working at a daycare.

Once, I worked at a dumpling restaurant. The owners took advantage of me because I didn’t know how much I should get paid legally. They only paid me $6 per hour plus no tips. But guess what? On the day of the winter solstice, the busiest day of the year—it’s traditional in my culture to eat dumplings then—I met a customer who became my husband three years later.

In 2017, when I found out my mother could attend my wedding in Niagara-on-the-Lake, I cried tears of joy.

I now realize that the ups and downs I experienced are the reasons I became the person I am today. A transformation was taking place in my mind which has made me much more down-to-earth. Perhaps that is why today I decided to wear this simple and comfortable pair of shoes when I was on my way to teaching. Yes. I started my own yoga small business called YogaTime, and I am tutoring Mandarin.

I hope to wear my sneakers to pick up my mom at Pearson Airport soon—if it’s not snowing.

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