Life in Mission Hill: Hui Yu Zhang

Life in Mission Hill: Hui Yu Zhang

By Jasmine Wu

Zhang Hui Yu didn’t mean to miss her stop. But she wanted to do well in her English class, and, at 82, she can be a little forgetful.

“I was studying vocabulary, and I was returning home, and on the train I was reading, reading, reading,” she said in Mandarin, reflecting on the experience from a few years ago. “Sometimes I’m studying and I get in a daze.”

Usually, the E-line stops right in front of her government-subsidized Mission Park apartment. The complex also houses a library where her classes were. She thought learning English would make her life easier when she was picking up her medicine or being asked to provide her ID.

But after a few years, she stopped going; now, she can only remember simple words like table or chair, and can count to ten.

“At the time my grades were pretty good. I was very studious. But afterward, my husband died and I missed him a lot, so after that I got depressed. Additionally, my health was getting worse. I slowly, slowly forgot everything.”

Because of that language barrier, Zhang said she does not feel very connected to her Mission Hill community. After 17 years living in the neighborhood, she has rarely interacted with any college students or people from different countries. And although 17 percent of the neighborhood is Asian, according to the Boston Planning and Development Agency, Zhang said most of the Chinese speak Cantonese, a dialect she doesn’t understand well.

Zhang usually keeps to herself in the Mission Park complex. When she does venture out, she’ll catch the train to Chinatown to buy Chinese groceries and catch up with some friends. Three or four days a week, she goes to the senior center, where she learns dancing or singing, and goes to physical therapy.

“The only thing I worry about is my children’s health,” since she and her daughter both have a disease which causes pain in the joints.

“Sometimes they’re afraid to tell me. But I see her putting patches on her body to ease the pain. Sometimes I tell them I wish I can suffer all your pain for you so you don’t have to suffer,” she said. “I won’t be suffering much longer anyway.”

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