Leaving Shenyang in Black High-Heeled Shoes
When Amy Wang donned her first pair of high-heeled shoes in 1996, she dreamt of travel and adventure. In this story, Amy looks back at the triumphs and sacrifices that shaped her resolve to never give up on her dreams.
My high heel shoes remind me of my grandma, my father, and all the love and support they gave me. I am here today because of their difficult decision to allow me to leave Shenyang alone in July 1996.
I was a tomboy growing up, but I loved seeing women in high-heeled shoes. I was constantly climbing trees, playing football, and scrambling over the roof of our house with the neighbourhood boys. My grandma always tried to get me to act like a proper Chinese girl, and my dad always told me to hold on tightly and walk steadily and safely. They did not want me to be afraid of failure, but both of them were worried that I would get hurt.
I had a craving for adventure. I couldn’t shake this thought deep in my mind that the world was bigger than China, and I desperately wanted to see it for myself.
When I turned twenty, my grandma gave me a red envelope filled with money and told me to buy myself a nice pair of gold earrings. I bought my first pair of fashionable black high-heeled shoes instead. From there, my dreams of travel and adventure began. My family was sure that travelling abroad was the most dangerous thing I could ever do. I knew they wanted to protect me, but my dreams of adventure were intense. Eventually, I convinced my grandma and dad to let me go. They even agreed to support me financially.
I was wearing my black high-heeled shoes when I left Shenyang. My dad was with me when I boarded the train that would take me to the international airport in Qingdao Province. I kept thinking about my grandma. She was in poor health when I left home. I felt sad about how she would feel when she realized I was gone. Still, I was extremely excited to experience life without my grandma’s control.
My first stop was on the beautiful island of Saipan, where I could smell and feel the ocean nearby. I soon started a job there, but my work environment and dress rules meant I could no longer wear my high-heeled shoes. I put them in a box and kept them at the foot of my bed. The excitement of leaving home began to wear off, and my shoes no longer made me feel adventurous. They had only taken me far away from my grandma and dad. A year later, I received news that my grandma had passed away. I felt terrible because I hadn’t been there with her. Even worse, I could not return to China for her funeral.
When I felt sad, I would take out my shoes and cry, always regretting that I did not hug her and say goodbye when I left home that day. But the voice of my grandma was always in my head. When I cried about missing her and all my challenges, I would hear her saying, “Amy, you will find a way to deal with it; you can do it, and crying will not help you.”
Saipan was not the adventure I expected. But my grandma’s voice constantly reminded me that I could rise above anything. Being away from home is like learning to walk in these high-heeled shoes. At first, my feet hurt, and I felt unsteady. I had to walk slowly—more slowly than I cared to move through life. But I never gave up. I knew that if I wanted to wear these shoes, I had to learn to walk in them. So, I taught myself how.
After a while, the discomfort eased, and I could walk faster and steadier. In time, I would feel most comfortable wearing these shoes. In 2001, I unboxed my high heels. I left Saipan and resumed my adventure. I travelled to places like Japan and Greece. In 2005, I journeyed to Canada. I have made a home here, and this is my new chapter.
My grandma and dad would be proud of me and how I survived my trials after leaving home. My grandma used to say that a nice pair of shoes will take you anywhere you want to go. She would be pleased with how far my high heels have taken me.
Haiyan Wang (Amy) is a settlement facilitator at the Immigrant Centre of Manitoba. Honing her love for adventure, Amy enjoys outdoor activities such as fishing, rock climbing, skydiving, shooting, and camping. She also loves reading, playing games, and taking care of her plants. She feels privileged to help newcomers resettle in Canada. She also believes in the power of sharing stories and urges everyone who has a dream to never give up.