KWAI-YUN LI  

 

Kwai Li’s Hakka parents emigrated from Moi-yen, China to Calcutta, India, where Kwai was born the youngest of nine children.

Kwai was adopted by a family friend when she was one week old, and grew up in Chattawalla Gully, with her adopted brother and sister. Chattawalla Gully, so named because it was a street of umbrella makers in the late 19th century. (Chatta means umbrella in Hindi; walla means people, in this case, makers) The Chinese moved into the street in the 1920s.

Kwai always tries to make life interesting.

She made life more interesting for her parents when she was less than a year old. Her father met with his friends at the local tea-stall after dinner almost every night. One evening, very proud of his daughter's tottering steps, he took her with him to the tea-stall, to show her off to his friends. It was closing time. The tea-stall owner raked out his stove and spread the hot coals outside the stall. Kwai tottered onto the embers.

Her mother told her that the blisters on the soles of her feet were the size of melons, and when she applied an ice water soaked cloth, the blisters burst and sprayed across the room. That was Kwai’s first and only attempt at walking on hot coals.

Kwai attended Chinese school in Calcutta until she was fourteen, then finished high school at an English school when she was 20. Two years later Kwai’s parents arranged their daughter’s marriage to a Chinese man living in Toronto. Kwai communicated with her future husband by letter for six months before she came to Canada to marry him as a letter bride.

The marriage did not work out. Kwai left after six months. The friends she made at work helped her through this rough period as she reorganized her life.

In 1978, Kwai married her current husband. She took night courses toward her Certified General Accountancy, which she completed in 1988, then, in 1989, she quit her full time accounting job, worked part time and enrolled at the University of Toronto, where she earned her BA and later her MA.

Kwai Li currently lives in Mississauga, travels extensively, and writes.

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