About the Book
Long Way Home, by Flora Wong
The year was 1936 as Flora Wong’s family of ten, at the direction of her father, set out on a cross country trip from Boston to the West Coast. There, they boarded a ship for a 21-day voyage to China. Intent on returning to their native land, Flora’s father and mother expected to establish a comfortable and quiet life in a rural corner of Southern China’s Pearl River delta.
The Depression still gripped Boston and turbulence rocked the rest of the world. Five years earlier, in 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria. In October, 1934, the Long March of China’s Communist Party to escape nationalist forces began in South East China. In China in 1936, Japan established a puppet state as its own government in China. By 1937, the Japanese would launch a full scale invasion of the country, part of a conflict that would set a course for World War II. Within a few more years, a decisive civil war would break out in China between Nationalist forces under Chiang Kai Shek and Communist troops led by Mao Zedong.
Amid the turmoil in China, Flora and her family managed to build a modest life in their small village. In time, this young girl whose only home had been Boston, learned to tend the rice and vegetables, draw water from the town well, sew simple clothes and trap frogs and beetles. Her education ended in the second grade.
At eighteen, Flora learned she was engaged to be married. Flora’s mother, Chen Sun Ho, working to ensure the survival of her six daughters, had set a plan in motion to arrange marriages for each in the United States. Her goal was safety in their home country of America.
Soon, Flora found her husband-to-be was twenty-two years her senior. A Chinese widower in the U.S. chose her as his picture bride. Within a few months, the man from Helena, Montana had arrived for their wedding. His name was Charlie Wong and he operated a grocery store on Main Street in Montana’s Capital city.
The pair never met until the day before their wedding day, January 15, 1947. In her first glance, she determined that he was very handsome. In the first months of married life, the couple lived in China. In August of 1948, Charlie had to return to Helena to operate his store. Flora remained trapped in China as U.S. and Chinese immigration officials refused to grant her clearance to depart. Finally, after months of effort to obtain the proper visa, Flora had her papers and Charlie and Flora were reunited in Helena.
During their separation, the pair exchanged 41 letters. Their messages chronicled their love and loneliness, the frustrations with immigration officials and paperwork and finally their relief at knowing Flora would soon be on her way to Montana.
When Charlie departed on August 3, 1948, Flora’s first letter to him read:
“I have the memory of seeing your boat leave. You were on the boat, but I couldn’t see you. It was hard to see the boat sail away. I stayed until the boat moved and disappeared. It took my breath away. I felt you had the same feeling. There is no end to our love.”
Ten days into his trip, Charlie wrote from his ship:
“The sailing has been smooth with cool breezes. The nighttimes are lonely and it is hard to go to sleep. I think about you often. I saw a couple holding hands going to the dining room. I felt lonely without having you with me. When I get to the U.S., I will make every effort to get the papers done so that you can join me and we can be man and wife.”
On November 8, 1948, Flora wrote:
“It has been over three months since you departed from Hong Kong. I always think about our lives and the love we had together. I miss you deeper than the deep blue sea. I know you have the same feelings. I just wish immigration would hurry up and get my passport ready so I can be on my way.”
On November 23, 1948, Charlie wrote with the good news:
“As soon as you get my letter, you should go and get your passport with your mom. Come by ship or by plane, whatever is comfortable for you. It won’t be long now that we will be together. How happy we will be.”
Flora saved the letters for more than 60 years. When she began work on her memoir, she pulled them out of their storage place and tried to read the words. At first, Flora struggled to understand their meaning. The couple corresponded in hand-lettered Chinese characters. Flora had not read Chinese for many, many years and she could not easily translate her letters. After carefully interpreting one letter and seeing its meaning again, she painstakingly read and deciphered the remaining letters.
While this correspondence is one backbone of her story, Flora’s life also reveals the dignity, courage and self-reliance of many others. She lost her father, mother and later her husband to untimely and painful deaths. Out of adversity came good. She began a new life in Montana, a world away from her small village. Here a timid girl grew into a wife, mother, business owner and athlete. Hers is a story of authentic, ordinary people facing extraordinary tests.