Last updated on September 8th, 2023
Featured image: Ruth Malloy is credited for writing North America’s first English travel guide to China, and has worked tirelessly to fight racial discrimination against Chinese Canadians | In Iqaluit, Nunavut Photo by Ruth Malloy
Memoir reveals a lifetime spent working towards cultural understanding
by Carolyn Ray
If there ever was a memoir that shows how the actions of one person can create change, Ruth (Lor) Malloy’s “Brightening My Corner: A Memoir of Dreams Fulfilled” is it.
Growing up as a Chinese Canadian in the small town of Brockville, Ontario, Malloy experienced racial discrimination at a young age. Her dream was to be a foreign correspondent, combining her love of travel, writing and learning, yet even her teachers told her that people of Chinese origin were not allowed to be journalists. That didn’t stop her. She managed to convince her parents to let her go to college instead of helping with the family restaurant.
After college in Toronto, she went to Washington, D.C. to learn non-violent methods to fight racial discrimination, sitting in at “whites only” restaurants and swimming in “whites only” pools. In Ontario in the 1950s, she participated in the high-profile Dresden restaurant sit-in of 1954.
“It was a life-changing experience,” she says. “For months at a time, I workcamped with other young people helping to raise living standards in an Indigenous Mexican village. I helped build stone stoves and planted fig trees. In India, I joined Indian volunteers to give respect to a much-hated group of trans-gendered prostitutes and beggars by helping them write a booklet about themselves which they sold on the street.”
Malloy is credited with writing North America’s first English-language travel guide to China in 1973, when China reopened to foreigners after its Cultural Revolution. Throughout her decades-long career, she has worked tirelessly to foster intercultural dialogue and justice for marginalized groups.
An activist and a writer
Malloy covered the war in Vietnam, crossed Himalayan passes on foot and horseback, and faced down an angry elephant in Africa. She worked in India to reduce prejudice against that country’s caste of transgender hijras. She and her husband housed refugees in their Maryland home after the Vietnam War ended.
At 91, she’s still travelling with the help of her daughter Linda, seeking every opportunity to make a difference in the world, always going beyond what we might expect of a traveller and helping wherever she can.
Carolyn and Ruth Malloy at the book launch im Toronto/ Photo from Carolyn Ray
Wisdom from Ruth Malloy
I met Malloy several years ago and when she invited me to her home for her book launch and celebratory cake in June 2023, I was thrilled. Not only did I meet her entire family, I was regaled with stories of her adventures and photographs from her travels all over the world, dating back decades.
With her memoir, Malloy hopes her story will inspire others to make an effort too. She says: “The key is seeing one’s fellow human beings as friends and not as enemies. Changes start with brightening one’s own corner.”
1. Slow down to learn
While Malloy has travelled extensively on her own, she recommends that women choose only one foreign country at time for a deeper, more satisfying travel experience, and spend at least a week there.
“Enjoy its beaches and monuments, but take the time to learn about its problems,” she says. “If you can help, please do so. I focused on racial discrimination and cultural understanding, but there are lots of volunteer opportunities. You might learn something to help solve such problems in your own country.”
2. Be of service when you travel
Malloy wrote a dozen guidebooks on China, but always looked to help in her own way.
“For several years, I researched and wrote a dozen guidebooks on China so visitors could understand and appreciate it,” she says “Researching it was a great learning experience for me. I got involved with its one-child policy and foreign missionary history by organizing tours for foreigners. I also started collecting antique footwear from Tibetan monks and Mongolian nomads for the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.”
Lor Malloy also helped to build a rehabilitation centre for Inuit victims of tuberculosis in the Canadian Arctic, while enjoying Inuit culture, the amazing scenery and a native seal hunt.
She also recommends volunteer opportunities like the Peace Corps, Canada’s CUSO, and teaching English abroad.
3. Do your research to be confident
For women who want to travel solo, Malloy recommends that they do not travel alone on public buses and trains if they lack self-confidence and foresight.
“Are they able to handle travel problems like cancelled flights, lost passports and credit cards, and overly friendly strangers?” she says. “Do they care if their friends or families at home worry about them? Are they tech-savvy? Do you know how to contact their embassy in an emergency? Do they get easily confused? Do they wear a dog tag to identify themselves in case of a disabling accident? Have they checked their own country’s travel advisories?”
She suggests joining a group tour, hiring an escort or taking along a friend. There are also tours for travellers in wheelchairs or those that have disabilities. (Visit AccessibleGO and Wheel the World in our Women’s Travel Directory to learn more).
At 91, Malloy isn’t slowing down yet, but the way she travels has changed.
“I led several group tours to China and Mongolia and travelled alone around China until I was 74,” she says. “My family at home knew the details of my itinerary. Then after I had vision, hearing and memory problems, I knew I had to stop. Fortunately, my capable daughter was able to travel with me and make arrangements for trips. So I’m still travelling.”
Ruth Malloy in India in 1963 / Photo provided by Ruth Malloy
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