The story of WoW

Below is a short story of WOW by Elsa Gade who is one of WOW’s creators.

“Being a “lao wai” (foreigner) in China is not easy.

Not now and not in 2000 when my husband and I came to Wuhan. At that time, it was very unusual that women followed their men who came to China to work and there were very few non-Chinese women in Wuhan. In the many universities, there were foreign teachers from especially USA and Canada, but Wuhan is a huge city and therefore there was not any co-operation among the universities.

The only real group of foreign women in Wuhan were “the French” – the women who lived in the French compound and whose husbands worked for the French car producer.

The work place for my husband was very much pampered by the Chinese government and therefore I was invited to many official dinners and activities. Here at these dinners I met Marjolein Le Maitre, who worked with setting up a representation office for the Netherlands.  We decided to create “Wuhan Lao Wai” to help and support foreigners and give possibilities for meeting other “in the same boat”. Whenever I was out in town – shopping or just strolling around – and noticed a “lao wai” I addressed the person, tapped him or her on the shoulder and presented the purpose! Mostly people were very happy with the chance to meet other people with similar problems concerning language, culture etc. We used the internet by mailing. We also tried hard and many times to build a website, and in 2004 Wuhan Time was a reality but it never really was a great success. Too many obstacles and preventions by that time.

I am a freelance writer and some of my works were read by local government officials. One of the articles focused on difficulties with living in Wuhan and it all ended up in a contest “Wuhan in Foreigners Eyes” where foreigners could write their suggestions for improvements to the local government. This resulted in a book, a TV-show and changes and improvements to Wuhan. This was in 2003.

Those meetings with other foreigners in Wuhan gave the possibility to extend the “Wuhan Lao Wai”.  It was a very loose organization which was mainly a social support for foreigners but indeed also a great source of information about life and events in Wuhan.  The internet was growing so I still e-mailed people about the meetings and dinners in the “Lao Wai Newsletters”.

Out of all this there was a growing desire of meeting regularly with the women. In the same time and this must have been in 2003 – 2004 some other women in Wuhan, Isis Hahn, who came from India, and British Helen Booth, created a club of women from abroad and somehow this melted together with the women in the Wuhan Lao Wai and WOW was born! American Ginny Minninger suggested the name – WOW – Women of Wuhan – and as you surely know it also means something is extraordinaire and very special.

The exact year of when WOW started we do not really know, but it must have been around 2004. We met for coffee mornings around in Wuhan and each time between 20 and 40 women participated. Our intention was to do “something good” for the city and British Margaret Lovejoy suggested “the Shoebox Project” which she knew from Great Britain. So, we visited several schools and brought toys and goodies to the children.  We also started Christmas Bazaars to collect money for charity and we held Crafts Fair to let women show and sell their handicraft. We donated the money to Professor Gui to his fantastic help to the AIDS children in Hubei.

We who started and worked for WOW are very pleased that foreign women still can have the possibility to meet other women, get inspiration and encouragement in living in Wuhan.

So, long live WOW and the women who now work for it!”

Elsa Gade (September, 2013)