Mayors, including Morrisville’s Mark Stohlman, spend much of their time helping citizens via resolutions and board meetings.
Stohlman had a break from routine on Super Bowl Sunday, however, when he spent a good chunk of his evening trying to overcome language barriers and help a lost, elderly woman who didn’t speak any English.
“I was driving home from the gym, on Morrisville Parkway, and there was this lady standing on the (railroad) tracks,” Stohlman said. “I said, ‘That’s out of place,’ so I made a U-turn. ... She leans into my car and pulls out what looks like a Bible in Chinese. I thought she was trying to preach to me, to be honest.”
But she kept pointing at an address written in the book’s margin, he said.
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Stohlman took Mandarin lessons in elementary school, he said, and still remembers a little. He decided he would try to find out why the woman, who he later found out is named Gwilan Wen, was walking along train tracks at dusk.
“I said ‘How are you?’ in Chinese, and she kind of looked at me funny and said something, but I didn’t know what to say after that,” Stohlman said.
He called Patty Cheng, a resident who sits on committees for the Town of Morrisville and knows more Chinese than he does. Cheng missed the call.
Stohlman called the police and learned that translators are available for emergency situations.
“I guess if you call 911, you can ask for a Mandarin translator, which I never would’ve thought of,” he said.
Stohlman learned Wen lives in China and is in North Carolina visiting her son. She apparently had been dropped off at the Raleigh Chinese Church, on Chapel Hill Road near the Cary-Morrisville border. Her son was late picking her up, Stohlman said, but she started walking instead of waiting for him. But Wen was walking in the wrong direction and walked on train tracks leading north toward Durham.
“She probably figured she could follow the tracks to her house,” he said. “She had already walked 2.5 miles from the church.”
But Stohlman said he worried about a woman out by herself in the cold. He said he’s glad he saw Wen before she got further away from the road.
After Cheng started spreading the story, Stohlman sent out an email praising the police officers who ultimately responded and helped bring Wen home to her son in Cary.
“I was just at a meeting at Breckenridge with (Morrisville Police Chief Ira Jones) the other day, where he said if you see something, do something or say something,” Stohlman said. “It’s easy to drive past someone sitting on the tracks, so I’m glad I stopped.”
Stohlman said this was his first time trying to help someone who didn’t speak English.
He’s continuing to learn more about the culture. A few days later, he met with Wen and her family, who were overjoyed Stohlman had stopped to help their relative. They gave him some decorative gifts and invited him to spend the Chinese New Year with them.
And when Wen returns to China, she promised to send him a postcard.