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"His words were slow in coming, but now I understand more, I think of the dreams he has for us. Of making life easier for his parents with the money we earn here, and of a new life, a Canadian life, for me and Sing-wah, where we will live in a country not bound by old ways. A country where even though the Chinese are not always welcome, we have big opportunities."
Chin Mei-ling[2]

An Ocean Apart: The Gold Mountain Diary of Chin Mei-ling is the ninth historical fiction book in Dear Canada. It was written by Gillian Chan and is her only entry in the series. The book was published in February 2004 after Jean Little's Brothers Far from Home. It was followed by A Trail of Broken Dreams.

Chin Mei-ling, a Chinese immigrant living in Vancouver, hopes to bring her mother and younger brother to Canada.


"For all those who came before"

Book description[]

"Monday, November 13, 1922
My Baba looked very serious and he asked me how much I thought about Ma. Every day, was what I said, but I did not tell him that I thought of Ma many time each day. Baba smiled and said that he did too. He looked very hard at me, making sure our eyes saw each other. "I promise, Mei-ling," he said, "that we will do everything we can to bring your mother and brother here." He gripped my arm, so tight that it hurt. I knew that what Baba said was true. If we continue to work hard and save our money, we can pay their fares and their tax, just like Uncle Wing-lok did for us.
Thursday, November 16, 1922
Baba has never told me exactly how much we have saved, but I know his dream is for both Ma and Little Brother to come together. When I think how much money we need, I feel very small. A thousand dollars and their fare on the boat – how many hours will we have to work for that?

"Le 13 novembre 1922
Baba avait son air sérieux et il m'a demandé si je m'ennuyais beaucoup de Ma. « Tous les jours », lui ai-je répondu, mais sans lui avouer que je pensais à Ma plusieurs fois par jour. Baba a souri et il m'a avoué que lui aussi. Puis il m'a regardée intensément, droit dans les yeux. « Je te promets, Mei-ling, que nous allons faire tout ce que nous pouvons pour faire venir ta mère et ton frère », m'a-t-il dit. Il m'a saisi le bras et l'a serré à me faire mal. J'ai tout de suite su que ce que Baba venait de dire était vrai. Si nous continuons de travailler très fort et que nous mettons notre argent de côté, nous pourrons payer leur transport et leur taxe d'entrée, tout comme oncle Wing-lok l'a fait pour nous.
Le 16 novembre 1922
Baba ne m'a jamais dit exactement combien nous avions réussi à mettre de côté, mais je sais qu'il rêve de faire venir en même temps Ma et Petit-frère. Quand je pense à la somme qu'il nous faut amasser, je me sens toute petite. Mille dollars, en plus du prix du passage sur le bateau! Combien d'heures allons-nous devoir travailler pour y arriver?


Chin Mei-ling is a young Chinese girl living in Vancouver with her father, Chin Chung-yun ("Baba"). He co-owns a restaurant with Wong Bak in Chinatown. On her twelfth birthday in 1922, her teacher gives her a diary to record her "thoughts and feelings." Mei-ling finds this a "strange thing to do" at first, but soon becomes an avid diarist. She misses her mother, who is still in China with her younger brother, Sing-wah. To help her family, Mei-ling starts working a small job for Mr. and Mrs. Lee by watching over their small children.

Three years ago, Mei-ling's father returned to China to bring her mother to Canada. His father convinced him to take Mei-ling instead since she was a clever girl who needed school. She confides in her diary that she worries that he regrets his choice. Meanwhile, Mei-ling catches the attention of a tall white woman, Miss MacDonald. She wishes to tutor Mei-ling after school at her church. After getting permission from her father, Mei-ling starts seeing Miss MacDonald daily.

Mei-ling's friend Yook Jieh, a bonded servant, is getting married, while her Irish friend Bess Murphy acts increasingly irritable. When Mei-ling finds out that Bess's family has moved, she reveals that her father has deserted them and she now lives with her aunt. Bess often complains about her aunt, but Mei-ling thinks she is actually happier with her. At the end of February, Mei-ling celebrates Chinese New Year and invites Miss MacDonald to join the festivities.

In March, her old friend Mr. Chee catches a cold and passes away within a few days. A banquet is held to honor Mr. Chee. Later, Mei-ling learns about a new law that will make it impossible for her mother and brother to come to Canada. Her father decides to send for her before the law is passed. She refuses since Sing-wah is too young to be left with his frail grandparents. Mei-ling is angry at her mother until she receives another letter, in which she reaffirms her love for her daughter. In the final entry, dated March 1935, Mei-ling and her mother are reunited and she meets her brother for the first time.


Historical Note[]


Main article: List of An Ocean Apart characters
  • Chin Mei-ling, a twelve-year-old girl living in Vancouver's Chinatown with her father. She works hard in order to bring her mother and younger brother to Canada.
  • Chin Chung-yun ("Baba") is Mei-ling's father, who has lived in Canada for twenty-four years. Four years ago, he returned to China to bring Mei-ling to Canada.


Main article: Gillian Chan

Gillian Chan is an author of Canadian children's novels. Before becoming a writer in 1994, Chan worked as an English teacher for ten years. Her first book was Golden Girl and Other Stories. An Ocean Apart is her only entry in Dear Canada. She has also written two books for I Am Canada, namely A Call to Battle and Defend or Die. Chan first became interested in the history of Chinese immigrants in Canada after listening to the stories of her husband's family. Her husband helped her with An Ocean Apart by translating Chinese newspapers to get "an accurate picture of what life was like in Vancouver's Chinatown at that time."



  • Best Books for Kids and Teens, Canadian Children's Book Centre (2005) - commended[5]
  • Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children (2005) - shortlisted[5]
  • Arts Hamilton Award for Children's Book (2005) - winner[5]
  • Red Cedar Award, BC Young Readers' Choice (2007) - shortlisted[5]


"Thanks to Barbara Hehner for her careful checking of the manuscript, and to Dr. Anthony Chan of the University of Washington, author of such books as Gold Mountain: The Chinese in the New World, for sharing his expertise."
"Many people helped with the creation of this book and I would like to extend my thanks to all of them. In particular, I owe a huge debt to my husband, Henry Chan, who not only listened patiently as Mei's story unfolded, but who also was my translator, reading a whole year's worth of The Chinese Times on microfilm, allowing me to build up a picture of what life was like in Vancouver's Chinatown in 1923. In Vancouver, Larry Wong was a wonderful friend and resource, patiently listening to my endless questions and finding me the answers. The staff of Vancouver Public Library's Infoact service did a marvellous job pulling together many primary sources; this was of particular use in finding out what school life would have been like for Mei. In Toronto, Paul Yee was generous with his time and expertise, reassuring me when I thought I had written myself into a corner! Finally, my thanks go to Anne Sardall, who is always my first reader.


  • The portrait on the cover is a detail from a 1908 photograph published by the Chicago Daily News of Wu Ting-fang with three girls. The one pictured on the cover is named Lilie Moy. The background is a detail from a 1929 photograph by Stuart Thomson depicting Pender Street in Chinatown, Vancouver.[6][7][8]


See also[]

Dear Canada

Orphan at My Door | A Prairie as Wide as the Sea | With Nothing But Our Courage | Footsteps in the Snow
A Ribbon of Shining Steel | Whispers of War | Alone in an Untamed Land | Brothers Far from Home | An Ocean Apart
A Trail of Broken Dreams | Banished from Our Home | Winter of Peril | Turned Away | The Death of My Country
No Safe Harbour | A Rebel's Daughter | A Season for Miracles | If I Die Before I Wake | Not a Nickel to Spare
Prisoners in the Promised Land | Days of Toil and Tears | Where the River Takes Me | Blood Upon Our Land
A Desperate Road to Freedom | A Christmas to Remember | Exiles from the War | To Stand On My Own
Hoping for Home | That Fatal Night | Torn Apart | A Sea of Sorrows | Pieces of the Past | A Country of Our Own
All Fall Down | Flame and Ashes | A Time for Giving | These Are My Words

External links[]