Fri, Aug 27, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Elderly woman's odyssey defies language barrier


A trip to a public toilet left 60-year-old Yao Jixiu lost in China's biggest city, but after two weeks of sleeping outdoors and then traveling to Nanjing by mistake, the lady from a tiny village finally made her way home, state media reported yesterday.

Yao, from a small village in central Jiangxi Province, had traveled to Shanghai to visit her daughter.

But the two were separated on Aug. 5 when Yao visited a public toilet at the crowded People's Square, a vast plaza in the center of this city of 20 million, local newspapers reported.

Like millions of other elderly rural Chinese, Yao speaks a local dialect, not the standard Mandarin spoken as the national language. And she is unable to read or write.

Lost and unable to communicate, Yao slept on the street and then made her way to the train station, planning to use the 40 yuan (US$4.80) she had in her pocket to buy a ticket home, the Shanghai Daily and Oriental Morning Post reported.

But the ticket seller, unable to understand her strong accent, sold her a ticket for nearby Nanjing, just a few hours away, instead of the far more distant Jiangxi provincial capital of Nanchang, the reports said.

Then, after spending several nights sleeping in Nanjing's train station, Yao was befriended by a kind grocer, who contacted the police.

But police in Nanjing, unable to understand her, eventually sent her to a center for homeless migrants, the reports said.

There, Yao finally met up with a Jiangxi native who helped her communicate with the center's staff and contact her family, who had been searching for her for more than two weeks.

"Mom behaved very bravely. She never gave up, despite the communications barrier," her daughter, Yang Yuelan, told the Shanghai Daily.

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